Two weeks ago, and 10 months after he admitted to masturbating nonconsensually in front of five women, Louis C.K. took the stage for a surprise set at a comedy club in New York City. C.K., who made a joke about rape whistles during the set, received a standing ovation afterwards.
The comedian follows a long line of men whose careers survived abuse scandals without even a slight attempt at reparation. Bill Cosby did a surprise standup set while awaiting trial for three charges of aggravated indecent assault, to which a Pennsylvania court convicted him. Five of the six albums Chris Brown released after his brutal assault on Rihanna in 2009 went gold or platinum. There are reports that Matt Lauer, Mario Batali, Bill O’Reilly, and Charlie Rose have all started writing their comeback stories.
Despite the #MeToo movement going mainstream less than a year ago, outed perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault slither their way back into the spotlight without any attempt to repent for their wrongs other than an apology statement.
The #MeToo movement aims to bring justice to victims of sexual abuse and harassment. Despite making sexual assault a topic of conversation, no criteria yet exists for what happens after an accused public figure retreats out of the spotlight.
As Roxane Gay wrote in a New York Times op-ed following C.K.’s performance, people spend too much time discussing abusers and not victims. Zeroing in on the fate of an accused man’s career negates the underlying point of #MeToo— to bring victims justice through sharing their stories.
Several comedians, such as Norm Macdonald and Michael Che, spoke out in support of C.K.’s comeback. “People have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives,” comedian Michael Ian Black said on Twitter. “I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.”
In his November 2017 apology, C.K. said he planned to “step back and take a long time to listen.” So perhaps his attempt at a comeback after disappearing for almost a year should not be a surprise.
Black and C.K. both seem to think time is the solution to C.K.’s predicament. But why should time heal all wounds inflicted by famous abusers?
Allegations made against longtime CBS chief executive Les Moonves may turn out tangible reparation for assault survivors. Moonves stepped down three hours after the New Yorker published an article detailing allegations from six women.
The network pledged to donate $20 million from Moonves’ severance package to organizations that support the #MeToo movement once the internal investigation ceases. That sounds like great news, yet Moonves’ severance package still totals $100 million. But media analysts predict that Moonves won’t see a cent once CBS finds him guilty.
This donation, should it happen, could mark the first instance of someone on the side of the accused opening up their wallet willingly without a court order. Many accused men, like C.K., lost television shows and movie deals following exposure of their crimes. $20 million may be spare change to a huge corporation like CBS, but I would like to see more instances of companies coughing up cash in light of allegations instead of just contract cancellations.
Abusers should not receive forgiveness overnight for crimes that victims will spend a lifetime trying to forget. CBS wants to save their reputation, so they’re willing to pay. Defamed men who want to see their name in lights again should take note of the difference between taking action to earn forgiveness and expecting automatic absolution once a little time passes.
Time may allow emotional and psychological wounds inflicted by sexual abuse to scab, but the cuts will not heal. Abusers can walk away and belittle the impact of their actions, but those they harmed are left traumatized and ostracized. Women who come forward jeopardize their careers and sacrifice professional opportunities to speak up. Between the painful memory of the assault itself and the turmoil caused by the victim-blaming that follows, survivors cannot recover without hard work.
If victims need to invest in hours of therapy and rebuilding remedies to try to move on from an assault, why should admitted abusers like C.K. and Lauer take the stage again after a few months of hiding out on a financially secure vacation from their past?
When a group of victims accuses a famous man of assault or harassment, the public should not feel immediate concern for the future of his career. Before worrying about seeing your favorite abuser’s face on stage or on screen again, one should consider whether they paid for their crimes.