Sexual predatory behaviour is nothing more than an outcome of sex offenders abusing their power
“I don’t know why I did it. I will seek help.”
A sex offender wrote the statement in a Facebook comment as his last defense against an accusation of sexual harassment.
Over the past couple of weeks, social media in Bangladesh has seen a rise in allegations of sexual harassment against many around us. Most accused deactivated their accounts, few put down their profile pictures.
The rest are still tossing catchy mentions of “mental health,” “struggle,” “seeking help,” and “therapy” through their carefully-worded apologies.
This causal link suggests that the perpetrator was depressed, hence satisfied a need.
According to the UNHCR, sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offense or humiliation to another.
In most cases, power creates this perfect mental storm for misconduct.
The relationship between sexual harassment and mental health is complex. Research shows that severe mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, could have only a small role in sexual offenses.
Such mental illnesses must come with a diagnosis. What is happening right now is the blatant abuse of the perception of mental illness.
A person is exonerated from liability for doing an act on the ground of unsoundness of mind if they, at the time of doing the act, were either incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that the action was wrong or contrary to law.
Depressed individuals do not struggle with the inability to understand consent. Perceptions of life circumstances are accurate, their minds work logically, and they have the capacity to assess the implications of their actions.
An alleged harasser claiming to have anxiety attacks went to the extent of threatening his friends about killing himself were he not forgiven. Do you think an anxious person would be capable of the kind of emotional manipulation and calculated behaviour that are typically shown by sex offenders?
So, then, why are sexual predators using mental illness as an excuse?
Well, firstly, they know this is an easy way out. Today, we care about mental health issues, and harassers are aware of that. Ironically, we don’t know everything about mental wellbeing, allowing these culprits to take advantage of our ignorance.
Secondly, it adds to a frightening, misinformed narrative. It is just another version of “I couldn’t control my desire,” feeding misguided beliefs that perhaps treatment can fix them.
Gaslighting, on the other hand, is the perfect tool used by predators to gain sympathy. Consider this -- a sex offender usually will not show their negative or harmful behaviour to friends, co-workers, or family members. They can be really helpful to their families, deliver top notch work to their bosses, win debates, and still grope someone in an empty elevator.
When confronted, sexual predators may say that they are lonely. Many may find accounts of childhood abuse or the death of a relative to be one of the best ways to pull heartstrings.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of a survivor and imagine your elders sympathizing with the molester. Being the only person to see this behaviour is isolating.
Who will ever believe you? Don’t you doubt your reality and reasoning, slowly feeling responsible for someone else’s abusive behaviour?
The sheer disregard for one’s wrong-doing automatically dismisses the sufferings and trauma of the victim. The very idea of selfhood is undermined.
According to a study conducted by the American Medical Association, women who reported prior sexual assault were three times more likely to experience depression and twice as likely to have elevated anxiety than women without a history of sexual trauma.
The blanket stereotype about harassment and mental illness is not just inaccurate; it is dangerous. For instance, every apology that suggests a causal link between anxiety and violation of consent further increases the stigma of having anxiety.
The cycle makes it harder for those experiencing mental illness to seek help.
This supposed link also hurts the general population, because it concludes that mental illness is something to be feared.
In reality, mentally ill people are far, far likelier to be victims of sexual abuse. The perpetrator sees the individual as an easy target, less likely to retaliate or tell someone else about an encounter because of their mental state.
Sexual predatory behaviour is an outcome of predators abusing their power, and knowing they can get away with making sexual overtures to victims because of the impunity they enjoy. This is where we draw the line and call our value system to the stage.
Myat Moe Khaing is a service professional at a multi-national company. Reach her at [email protected]