What should we do with the prominent abuser?

5 min read

All of us who have been active in the field of culture and art in Gilan and are now trying to empathize with the victims of harassment, have been aware of the past instances of sexual abuse by some individuals in this field. What has had the most impact on how we deal with this issue is our position in power dynamics. Sometimes, we have been in a position equal to the victims and have escaped through various excuses of protest or public support. Other times, we have found ourselves in a position equal to or higher than the perpetrator and have chosen one of two paths: 1. Attempting to remove them from a position where they can harm others without consequences. 2. Inaction and turning a blind eye to the whole situation. (My assumption – which may seem strict and radical to many – is that it is impossible to be friends with someone you know is an abuser if you consider yourself part of a compassionate group.)

It goes without saying that choosing the first path could never be without cost; if the perpetrator plays a significant role in the success of a project, removing them will come at the expense of organizational and financial burdens for us (especially in small communities). If they also hold a prominent position in the cultural community, their removal may potentially damage our network and have a negative impact on the success of future projects. However, choosing the second path and clinging to unrelated notions such as freedom, human nature, and modern society, or even shifting our responsibility to the real institutions of authority, is not only irresponsible but also unethical. Movements like what has emerged today in the virtual space in Iran, exposing the abuses and harassment of those in power, provide the grounds for accepting the validity of the above statement. It doesn’t matter if we are the director of a cultural event, a school, or a cultural center. It doesn’t matter if we are a film, music, or theater producer. The Iranian version of the Me Too movement has served as a reminder of our social responsibility and ethical commitment to a person whose most basic right, their ownership, has been violated, simply because they have had less fame, power, and legal support compared to the perpetrator. We must come to believe that cultural fame or high positions in cultural organizations, like any other form of power, are susceptible to corruption and abuse. If we are interested in values such as justice and democracy, taking concrete and proactive actions resulting from the observance of these principles means helping to remove the abuser and perpetrator from positions of power (not protecting them under the guise of these very principles).

Let’s go back a step. We know that the percentage of victims of the master-disciple system, who have suffered the most abuse, to the victims of the boss-subordinate system in the field of culture and art, will be very small in joining the recent movement. Social pressures (which are more prevalent in smaller and more traditional cities) increase the cost of disclosure. The severe decline in ethics (mainly due to the failure of educational and training institutions and the incompatibility of such programs with social changes) has led to an increase in sexual abuses, which can be described as a sick society. Perhaps the situation in Gilan is better than the national average due to its social structures, but it is by no means crisis-free. Real and public solidarity with victims who have paid all the costs can be a factor for further identification. It is important not to be afraid of the growth of disclosure and the falling of veils that have hidden the truth of the perpetrators behind various curtains. The experience of Sweden, which has the highest rates of sexual assault and harassment among countries in the world, is a suitable model for overcoming this fear. Are social crises in Swedish society higher than the global average? Have moral values  among Swedes fallen more? Do Swedish laws provide less protection for victims? The answer to all three questions is negative. Swedish statistics are higher than other countries because Sweden has been able to provide a better platform for disclosure. Victims in this country are more hopeful of legal support and social solidarity, and with this hope, a higher percentage of them speak out about what has happened, file official complaints, and protect another person from a new incident. Therefore, greater success in disseminating the narratives of victims and identifying perpetrators also presents us with better conditions in our Gilan. In the next stage, what was the subject of this note becomes important. Removing the abuser from a position of power, especially if they are famous and prominent, is crucial.

Arvin Ilbeigi