Understanding Why Targets of Abuse Stay Silent

There was a moment during Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted what was in the mind of every American woman watching: “So Comey told Jeff Sessions he didn't want to be alone with Trump. Women across the country can relate.”

As Bill Cosby stands trial for one of his many sexual assaults, and Bill O’Reilly struggles to remain relevant after being fired by Fox News following sexual harassment revelations, Donald Trump’s predatory behavior seems clearer than ever. In an op-ed in the today’s New York Times, Nicole Serratore lays out exactly how Trump’s behavior played out with former FBI director James Comey.

She wrote: “As I listened to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.”

The parallels are numerous. From whispering in Comey’s ear about how excited he was for them to work together, to the dinner where Comey was surprised to find himself alone with Trump, to pushing everyone out of the Oval Office so they would be undisturbed, all of these behaviors are quite familiar.

Members of the Intelligence Committee even questioned Comey like he was a woman who had been victim of a male predator. As Elle magazine pointed out:

Throughout the hearing, Comey was peppered with questions about why he didn't somehow stop Trump from being a creep. "You're big, you're strong," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong–I cannot discuss that with you'?" Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) argued that "You said [to Attorney General Jeff Sessions], 'I don't want to be in the room with him alone again,' but you continued to talk to him on the phone… Why didn't you say, 'I'm not taking that call?'" Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) acknowledged that "[The] president never should have cleared the room and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go, to let the investigation go. But I remain puzzled by your response… You could have said, 'Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate.'"

Perhaps the aspect of behavior that resonates the most with women I’ve spoke with was Comey’s description of trying to keep his face entirely neutral so as to neither anger nor encourage Trump.

This is not to say that men haven’t been prey to manipulative and practiced sexual predators. After all, predatory behavior is really about abusing the balance of power and no one abuses power more than a bully. Given his stature as a white man with prestige and authority, and the lack of distracting salacious elements, perhaps Comey’s experience will help raise awareness of how harassment is always about an abuse of power and an attempt to defame and villainize the victim. And maybe, just maybe, it might help prevent the kind of situations that happened at Fox News.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Photo credit: New York Times/Andrew Harrer