New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Gaslighting is Familiar to Trauma Survivors
It is a familiar tactic for an abuser to try to gaslight their victim. Gaslighting is an effort to deflect from reality and basically say the victim is imagining the situation. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing just this regarding the sexual harassment accusations against him.
After reports of sexual harassment against well-known governor Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Letitia James did a four-month investigation into the allegations which culminated in a 168-page report, in which 11 women have accused Gov. Cuomo of a myriad of sexually harassing behaviors. “Specifically, we find that the Governor sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” the report reads.
The governor has not only denied the accusations but has gone on to say he is just friendly, and he hugs everyone and so do other politicians. This is Gaslighting 101. Running your hand up someone’s blouse or patting them on the butt is not an innocent hug. It is sexual harassment.
Abusers should experience consequences. He has now resigned from his position, but abusers should not be given the right to resign and should be fired.
When I was in college, Professor Anita Hill was asked to testify in front of congress as to her sexual harassment by then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Clearance Thomas. She was so brave and told her truth to power and was crushed in the community. Judge Thomas even went so far as to call the testimony and hearing a “high-tech lynching.” When women like Professor Hill come forward about abuse, they are vilified and gaslit that they are imagining their abuse or at least should suffer in silence. Judge Thomas was confirmed and sits on the Supreme Court to this day. His appointment sent a very strong message to women: your voice and experience do not matter.
Professor Hill found her voice and is now a nationally recognized advocate for ending sexual harassment. She even led me to take action to defend myself.
The summer after the Judge Clarence Thomas hearings, I went to work for a city office in my hometown. My dad had gotten me the job. I basically answered phones all day and kept the supply room and kitchen stocked.
There was an older man there who took a liking to me. He hovered around my desk, made crude comments and basically hit on me. I noticed that his behavior towards me was like other women in the office, but I felt threatened and that my safety was at risk. I started documenting his behavior and mailing it to my friend. My dad did not always want to come to pick me up from work, so this man would give me a ride home. I was so scared of him that it was making me sick.
I wanted to wear turtleneck tops and long pants to work because I was so worried and was scared that I was responsible for his behavior. I live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this was triggering me, and I was feeling I had nowhere and no one to turn to since my home was dangerous as well.
I finally decided to talk to his boss. I went into her office and shut the door. I asked if I could talk with her about a sensitive issue and that I did not want it to come back to me that I had made a complaint. She agreed.
I told her all my observations about this employee and how it was making me feel. She immediately interrupted me and said, “he is like that with everyone, he means no harm. Do not worry about it. He is a great guy and you should be flattered.”
I was devastated. Here I was speaking to another woman about my fears and concerns, and she was gaslighting me and saying there is nothing to see here. Now, what do I do?
I again wrote my friend a letter about my encounter. I placed the letter in a private place in preparation of mailing it. The next day, my mother approached me and said she had read the letter. She was livid with me. She stated that “you could ruin this man’s career and you have misinterpreted this behavior, and there is nothing wrong with how he is treating you.” Here was my own mother, discounting my experience.
I spent the rest of the summer suffering in silence.
My experience is common, just like Professor Hill and the 11 women accusing Governor Cuomo. The #metoo movement has improved situations and given women a platform, but not all that much. More women are going public, but the consequences are still high. More than likely, the man’s behavior will be excused, and the victim will be blamed for “trying to be vindictive” and “ruining his career.”
Trauma survivors like me are in a double bind. Nowhere feels safe. We feel attacked from all avenues. Who do we tell? Who will believe us? Will we be seen as crying wolf again? This gaslighting is so familiar that we have a hard time determining reality. We once again have a trauma response.
If you are being sexually harassed at work or elsewhere, you have the right to speak up and demand justice. The abuse is not OK, and neither is the gaslighting that will inevitably follow. Gov. Cuomo’s hugs of others in no way invalidates the women’s experiences. Abusers use these tactics to deflect from their crimes (and they are just that — crimes). Seek out help and support from other women and men who can be supportive and seek safety. That is what is most important for your physical and mental well-being. Contact the Times Up organization to discover resources and support to hold your harasser accountable and get the mental health support you need. They also have a legal defense fund.
The incident at my job ended up being one of many over the course of my life where I was harassed and felt unsafe and powerless, just like most other women. Sometimes I can speak up, and I do, and other times I wonder if it is even worth the blowback and gaslighting. The man at work or the stranger on the street — this is all abuse and should be treated as such. Men should be held accountable. Society needs to make this behavior unacceptable and more of us who have the power to share our stories can help make this happen. We also need men to hold their fellow men accountable.
You are Mighty Strong whether you decide to tell or not.
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