News Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults were about power, not intimacy.

Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults were about power, not intimacy.


Last week, the world saw how the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein entered the courtroom for a criminal trial for two of the women who accused him of assault and sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, on the same day across the country, it was reported that new criminal charges were filed against him in Los Angeles County, alleging that Weinstein raped one woman and sexually assaulted another in 2013.

These are just some of the charges against Weinstein that will see his day in court. From countless reports, including the infamous New York Times article that launched a global #MeToo movement, these cases represent only a fraction of the people who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

To make sense of these supposed behaviors, one must begin by realizing that rape, sexual violence and harassment fundamentally have nothing to do with sex.

Jeffrey Epstein, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar. For men like them and others, it's not about sex. It's about power, domination, control and humiliation too.

I have evaluated and treated thousands of patients who are survivors of child sexual abuse, rape, dating violence and trafficking. Stalkers and abusers enjoy subjecting victims to their control and demonstrating their power over the victim. Perpetrators, particularly serial perpetrators, are master manipulators. Not only are they pleased to control their victims psychologically but also to get away with it. This explains why abusers can attack a variety of victims or engage in "sexual" behaviors that hardly seem satisfactory to ordinary people, it is not about sexual attraction or intimacy.

Humiliation is the core of the perpetrator's process, and almost all victims of sexual assault describe intense shame after the attack. The point is to leave the victim defenseless, with the loss of all control over the situation. It is deeply humiliating. And what does humiliation do? Silence the victim. Shame is a powerful and distressing emotion that we all try to avoid. It makes us want to hide, bury what happened and never talk about it again. The perpetrators manipulate the shame so that the victims are blamed for the attack and make them feel complicit in what happened, which protects the perpetrator.

Shame also increases the likelihood of abuse happening again. The perpetrators initially prepare the victims by establishing a seemingly positive relationship with them. When sexual assault begins, the victim generally feels confused due to the "positive" relationship that preceded her. Victims almost always feel intense shame: that rape is their fault. The perpetrators amplify that idea, convincing the victim of an alternative and inverse reality that justifies their behavior and blames the victim. Survivors of repeated child sexual abuse may be particularly vulnerable to repeated exploitation. Almost always, in childhood, they were victims of attachment and authority figures. They learn that relationships are based on repeated betrayals and exploitation, which makes subsequent exploitation attachments seem "normal."

Understanding the dynamics of humiliation is difficult, since shame is universally avoided. In my clinical work, when traumatized patients begin to appreciate how shame and humiliation have been used against them, it is a powerful beginning of freedom from the psychological control of the perpetrators.

This process takes time and care. Through a variety of therapeutic approaches, victims can begin to recognize normal and healthy attachments and how abusive relationships distort them. And we can refute trauma-based beliefs, such as "Everything is my fault" and "This is what I am good at," and begin to restore their dignity and sense of identity.

Humiliation can silence victims of abuse throughout their lives. But several women broke the cycle of shame and humiliation and called Weinstein for the mistakes they perceived, and now he will have his day in court. This could help women replace any alternative reality that he could have created for them, if he is guilty, with the truth.

Sex attacks are never about sex. It's about power and humiliation. We can only expect justice to be done in such cases, and humiliation lands right where it belongs: directly on the head of the perpetrator.

Dr. Richard J. Loewenstein is the founder and medical director of the Sheppard Pratt Health System Trauma Disorders Program in Towson, Maryland. He wrote this for The Baltimore Sun.


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