In the wake of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, many in Hollywood have spoken out to share their own experiences of harassment from powerful men in the industry, including comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey, producer Brett Ratner, and television host Charlie Rose. On Sunday, Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor released a statement denying allegations that he had sexually harassed his co-star Trace Lysette and a former personal assistant. He also said he would not be returning to the show for a fifth season.
"I’ve already made clear my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive, but the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue," Tambor said in the statement, reported by Deadline . "Given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent." But some advocates say this statement from Tambor—and ones coming from other accused harassers—largely sidesteps responsibility and willfully misconstrues the definitions of assault and harassment.
"That line stuck out to me because a lot of times you have to look at intent versus impact," Brian Pacheco, director of communications at Safe Horizon, an organization that aids victims of domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault tells Broadly. "A lot of times folks who commit [assault say] ‘That wasn’t my intent’ or ‘That’s just how it is,’ but they don’t understand the impact on how that feels to survivors. I think a lot of times people hide behind that. ‘I thought that it was consensual,’ so that’s a form of victim blaming or taking the onus off the abuser and placing it on something else."
Though these prepared communications are typically crafted with a team of legal and PR professionals, and like C.K. and Spacey, Tambor’s statement uses language that sidesteps the allegations against him and positions alleged harassment as a regretful misunderstanding. Tambor’s denial comes paired with an acquiescence that he "can be volatile and ill-tempered … But I have never been a predator—ever." Likewise, after eight women employees accused television host Charlie Rose of sexual harassment, he issued a statement saying, "I always felt I was pursuing shared feelings."
As survivors are sharing their stories in record numbers, those who stand accused have been slower to confront the allegations, instead using shrouded language in an attempt to divert attention and de-escalate the allegations. After Russell Simmons was accused of sexually assaulting model Keri Claussen Khalighi when she was 17 years old in 1991, he released a statement—similar to Rose's—saying that he interpreted the encounter as consensual even though his accuser has said otherwise. That Rose had immense power over his employees and Simmons allegedly pursued an underage girl is not considered in either of their statements or their understandings of consent.
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Likewise, in response to an investigation by the New York Times into Louis C.K.’s alleged sexual misconduct—in which five women claimed the comedian masturbated in front of them—C.K. admitted to the harassment and added that he previously thought his actions were defensible, explaining: "At the time, I said to myself what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first." C.K.'s statement drew flak for emphasizing his status and minimizing his responsibility.
"I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community," he wrote, "which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it."
Both C.K. and Tambor’s statements admit some flaw or wrongdoing, but ultimately do not accept culpability for the claims brought against them. For these men, being "admired," "ill-tempered," "volatile," or ignorant have become suitable replacements for accepting responsibility for your actions.
Spacey’s apology, too, was met with criticism for diverting the conversation away from his inappropriate behavior. The actor, who allegedly assaulted Anthony Rapp when he was 14 years old in 1986, responded to the allegations by brushing the incident off as "inappropriate drunken behavior." Spacey then ended his statement by coming out as gay, diverting the nature of the situation and attempting to win favor with the public.
Pacheco says he's not surprised by the language utilized in these apologies because most people accused of abuse grapple with the way they perceive themselves and their morals. When Simmons was recently accused of sexually assaulting model Keri Claussen Khalighi when she was 17 years old in 1991, he responded with a statement, writing that "abusing women in any way shape or form violates the very core of my being" because he has two daughters.
"Sometimes they may even see themselves as innately good people so the narrative they have of themselves is 'I could never do something like this,'" Pacheco explains. "That’s not a reason to commit harassment, and we need to look at the culture and how we keep abusers accountable but [also] look at how we’re raising young boys and young men."
For an apology that doesn’t minimize responsibility, those accused should not focus on the "good" they’ve done in their lives and careers, Pacheco says, and instead address that regardless of celebrity, these acts of abuse do occur. "Being a respected or well-liked community member" doesn't exempt someone from committing harmful acts, Pacheco explains. Those accused should examine their power and the circumstances that led them to abuse it, and pledge not to let it happen again.