By Robert . . . This past week has been a traumatic one for our movement. One of the more visible members of our community has had some serious and arguably credible accusations (of a non-sexual nature) leveled against him. Many of us looked up to him. Many of us feel disillusioned. These feelings are perfectly normal, but they need not be permanent. There are reasons for hope.
Let’s start with what he was able to accomplish. This individual passed the bar exam. He made unlikely alliances with members of the victim advocacy community. He bridged the improbable gap between registrants, the legal community, and the victim advocacy community. He wrote articles for major publications and was often quoted as an expert. He stressed the importance of taking accountability for one’s own actions, stepping out of one’s shame, and living with dignity. He was an expert communicator who could persuade even the most ardent skeptic.
Why are these accomplishments important? Because he showed us that it is possible for us to do the same things he did. We too can break those barriers and be smart advocates. He taught us to be smart advocates: To stress the importance of primary prevention and put the alleged victim at the head of the conversation. But he also taught us something else of great importance: It is of absolute, paramount necessity to do the work on yourself before you decide to pick up the mantle and advocate for an already stigmatized community.
While his goal all along was to decrease the stigma we registrants face, the alleged actions that have come to light this past week have unfortunately set us all back. If any of us make the choice to become public advocates, we have to choose to lead an exemplary life — not just for ourselves but for those we are advocating for. This person had a responsibility to us to live this exemplary life once he made the decision to advocate for us, and in some ways, he did not. While none of us are perfect, professional advocacy is 100% political. Advocates for tougher registry laws will cherry-pick whenever they can, and, unfortunately, the man’s name will now be used by some as an example of why we need registry laws.
In spite of this, there are other reasons to take heart. Many people this week have been asking themselves, “Is everything he said and did a lie?” Of course it isn’t all a lie. The alleged actions of one person do not define a movement, despite the prominence this person occupied within the movement. Most of us do go above and beyond to make sure we are living lives full of integrity. If one of our role models does not, it doesn’t mean we aren’t continuing to try to do so.
Lastly, for our movement to have any credibility, we acknowledge that harm is sometimes done. When that is determined to be true, respect is likely to be lost for those previously held in esteem. Admitting this is not only intellectually honest, it is also the right thing to do. But we must never forget that all voices, accuser and accused, must be heard, given respect, allowed dignity, and provided the opportunity for healing.
A few years ago, another individual we all looked up to fell afoul of the system. Many of us thought his consequences were completely unjust (including myself), but he made a mistake too. There was talk that him being civilly committed would hurt our movement, and in the short term, it did. But we pressed on. We moved forward. We looked inside ourselves to learn lessons from it and improved our messaging as a result. We became stronger and more resilient. That same possibility exists at this moment. Birth pangs are always necessary for growth, and the events of this past week are forcing us to be introspective about ourselves and forward-looking with regards to our movement. It’s been a painful week. But out of that pain, we can arise with more purpose, resolve, and dedication. We can redouble our efforts to make a difference with regards to the prevention of abuse and also to the abolishment of shaming registries. We can arise like a phoenix from the ashes.
I wish the individual I am speaking about well. To many, he was our best advocate. Perhaps after he does the work on himself, he can help us lead the fight again. After all, we also believe in redemption.
Robert has a master’s degree in civil engineering. He lives in Maine with his two cats.