Is Redemption Possible In The Aftermath Of #MeToo? Some of the powerful men accused of sexual misconduct in the early days of the #MeToo movement are now attempting comebacks, which raises questions about rehabilitation, redemption and reentry.
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Is Redemption Possible In The Aftermath Of #MeToo?

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Is Redemption Possible In The Aftermath Of #MeToo?

Is Redemption Possible In The Aftermath Of #MeToo?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today marks two years since the #MeToo movement burst into plain view with The New York Times reporting Harvey Weinstein. #MeToo has brought down hordes of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. Many of them are now attempting to make a comeback. So today, we begin a series of stories looking at this phase in #MeToo and asking questions about rehabilitation, redemption and reentry. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, some say it's time for more focus on the road back for offenders.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Some guys who are ousted for alleged sexual misconduct have been talking about comebacks since the day they were accused. But the pace of those actually doing it seems to be picking up.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Louis C.K.

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AL FRANKEN: Hi, this is Al Franken. I have a new podcast, and it's great.

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MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Now, this is Mark Halperin. Hey, Mark. Thanks so much for coming back to the program.

MARK HALPERIN: You're nice to invite me. I really appreciate it.

SMITH: From comedian Louis C.K. to former U.S. Senator Al Franken and once-TV political pundit Mark Halperin, their alleged offenses run the gamut, as do their expressions of remorse. And it's all fueling questions about what it should take to be worthy of a return.

TARANA BURKE: We have to grapple with the question of who can come back and who can't. We can't move to a culture that eliminates sexual violence if we're not dealing with how harm-doers become harm-doers and how they undo that.

SMITH: Tarana Burke, the activist who coined the term #MeToo, says her focus remains on supporting survivors. But she says society should also focus more on rehabilitating the perpetrators, not so much for their sake as for the sake of real, lasting change.

BURKE: Leaving them in a heap on the side of the road is not the answer. Allowing them to sneak back in through the back door is not the answer and act like nothing happened. None of those are the answer, right? There should be an expectation that there's real rehabilitation and that they have seen the light and want to make dramatic shifts in their behavior.

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HALPERIN: I'd like to again apologize to the women that I mistreated and...

SMITH: Halperin tried to jump-start his comeback on "The Michael Smerconish Program" about a year and a half after he was fired amid allegations of aggressive sexual propositioning, forcible contact and lewd behavior. It was also a few months before announcing he's got a new book coming out.

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HALPERIN: I know I need to continue to grow. I wasn't a perfect person when I made these mistakes. I'm not a perfect person now. I'm happy to be judged by perfect people, but I want to be someone who can work. I have...

SMITH: But contrition is in the eye of the beholder. And some, including accuser Dianna May, don't see it.

DIANNA MAY: It feels like Mark is checking boxes and that all he really seems to care about right now is reestablishing his career.

SMITH: Halperin declined to comment for this report. In the past, he's admitted to outrageous, aggressive and crude behavior, but he's denied some of the worst allegations. To May, it proves he still doesn't get it.

MAY: I'm not just continuing to kick the guy in the teeth because I'm a mean, vengeful person. It's hard work to be forgiven, and Mark is not there.

SMITH: Others, however, like his publisher Judith Regan, insist Halperin's apology and the price he's paid should be enough.

JUDITH REGAN: You know, he has been humiliated. He lost all of his jobs. And I think that we cannot as a society just take all of these men and condemn them to a life of unemployment and perpetual shame.

SMITH: When pressed about the risk to others, Regan sighs.

REGAN: You know, maybe you don't put them in positions of authority over women. I can understand that. But, you know, in the case of Mark Halperin writing a book in his apartment, I don't see what harm there is.

SMITH: So then how do we decide who gets to come back and when? When it's criminal, we have judges and sentencing guidelines. Is it possible here to come up with some way to weigh the egregiousness of the offense, the sincerity of the apology, the risk and all the intangibles to determine who's worthy?

ARI WILKENFELD: It's going to be subjective, but I really do feel like we're going to know it when we see it.

SMITH: Attorney Ari Wilkenfeld, who represents harassment victims, has been trying to conceive some kind of roadmap for the road back. Even the most sincere apology, he says, is just a start. There also needs to be a process of restitution, so those who were part of the problem can become part of the solution.

WILKENFELD: We're two years out now. And it's very disappointing because, you know, just as much as we need to get people out of the workplace who are dangerous, we should be looking to get people back into the workplace who have learned their lesson and are willing to teach it to others. That's more valuable than, you know, expelling somebody for life.

SMITH: To many others, the very suggestion of redemption is both premature and misguided. Wellesley College women's studies professor Leigh Gilmore says we should be worrying about victims recovering what they lost.

LEIGH GILMORE: How do you come back from having your mentor destroy your career? How do you come back from having your boss ask you for sexual favors? Those are the questions I think we should be taking up, not how the guys come back and get to have the next stage of their careers.

ZOE BROCK: I don't even really know where to begin with the trauma that it brings up for me and, I'm sure, many other people.

SMITH: Model and actress Zoe Brock is one of the many who accused former film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. She worries about sending the message that guys can just take a short timeout and then come back to the table. That, she says, could have a chilling effect on reporting and erode the progress made by #MeToo.

BROCK: I think we're in, you know, a massive amount of danger of having all of this stuff continue. I beg of anyone listening out there, like, don't ever be complacent about it.

SMITH: But even some of the staunchest survivor advocates insist a road back for offenders is not at odds with what most victims want. They say survivors are usually less interested in punishing perpetrators than they are in preventing them from doing it again. For serial predators, maybe not, but many sexual harassers can be rehabilitated, according to a burgeoning industry of consultants, coaches, counselors and therapists now being called in to work with them.

AMY OPPENHEIMER: The people that I work with are people who are crossing lines, who are not handling the power that they have appropriately. But they can be turned around.

SMITH: Attorney Amy Oppenheimer recalls one particularly haughty executive she worked with who showed up angry that he even had to be there until she started letting him know how much his employees hated working for him.

OPPENHEIMER: And he started to cry. And obviously, some of these habits are really hard to change. But the fact is that there's something there I can work with.

SMITH: Ultimately, it's up to employers to monitor employees to ensure conduct is turned around and the workplace is safe. But HR consultant Dan Guliano says that's where the roadblock tends to be. Companies are less concerned with philosophical questions of redemption, he says, than they are about pragmatic ones of liability and reputation.

DAN GULIANO: The employer doesn't have an awful lot of leeway here. You can't say to the rest of the workforce, give the guy a chance. It just doesn't work. I'm going to let that person go. Is it the right thing? Is it the moral thing? Is it the ethical thing? That's a whole other ball of wax there.

SMITH: And even as a practical thing, Guliano concedes, it's also problematic since those who are let go obviously don't just disappear. They're still among us, mostly not famous, and likely to land in a cubicle across town next to someone else who has no idea.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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