The Call-In: Knowing Sexual Harassers What do you do when someone you know is accused of sexual harassment? NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks with consultant Kate Burke of California and psychologist Joseph Burgo.

The Call-In: Knowing Sexual Harassers

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Time now for The Call-In.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does sexual harassment affect those who are close to the accused in the era of #MeToo? Last week, we asked listeners to tell us if they had a family member, friend, or partner face allegations of sexual harassment. Kate Burke, a political consultant from Newport Beach, Calif., wrote in to tell us about a friend she's known for years.

KATE BURKE: He's somebody I trust very deeply and someone who has been there for me during very difficult times. He has shown me that when we walk through pain, we don't walk alone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that trust was shaken earlier this year. Her friend was accused of sexually harassing someone in the workplace, inappropriate emails and physical contact. And when she found out...

BURKE: My heart sank. I felt concerned for my friend. Earlier in the morning, we had been texting about books or furniture or something, you know? So I reached out, and he reached out back to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did he bring it up with you?

BURKE: The specifics of what went on? No.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you discuss it with friends or mutual friends who may have known that you are close to him? And what were they saying?

BURKE: This part was very interesting to me because there was virtual silence. And I had one friend who independently wrote me and said, I am so sad for your friend and what is going on with him. I didn't hear anything from anyone else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we keep going, here's something you should know about Kate Burke. She shared with us that she was violently raped 17 years ago. It was an incident, she says, that's affected the rest of her life. And Burke says there should be room in the #MeToo movement to make the distinction between what happened to her and what her friend did. Did you feel like you had a better understanding of the situation because he is your friend or maybe that your judgment was clouded because he is your friend?

BURKE: My initial thought was, of course, I believe the woman who made the accusations. It's a both-and thing. I care about my friend. I know he's a good person. And it appears that he exercised some poor judgment and caused some pain for someone. Both of those things can exist at the same time. I don't believe that my perspective has been clouded because I am friends with him, but I will say that when the Al Franken story broke back in December...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is Senator Al Franken, who's now stepped down, of course, after allegations of sexual harassment.

BURKE: Yes. But when he stepped down, I was like, good. Isn't it lovely to see someone being held accountable for something? This was where I was coming from early on as the infancy of the #MeToo movement sort of grows. I'm growing and changing, too, because there are so many nuances, and it's going to do a disservice to the movement as a whole down the road if we don't start getting uncomfortable and having a willingness to discuss the differences. I want to live in a just world where there's mercy, where we are not judged by our worst acts. I certainly don't want to be judged by my worst act.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kate Burke, a political consultant in Newport Beach, Calif., Forgiveness in the #MeToo movement? It's a challenging idea at a challenging time. So we reached out to Joseph Burgo, a clinical psychologist and author, to explore it further. Burgo wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post about the role shame and forgiveness can play in this moment of reckoning. I asked him what we should expect from men who've done something wrong after they've been publicly shamed.

JOSEPH BURGO: The next step is a genuine apology. And then I think they need to try to make amends - that isn't to get acceptance and forgiveness from us, the public, but it has to come from the victims themselves. There needs to be some sort of outreach and attempt to make amends and to truly apologize to the people they've injured.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does that fit into the #MeToo movement?

BURGO: Shaming these predators, these harassers is a way for society to say, we do not condone this kind of behavior. So it sends a message to sexual predators and harassers that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. And if they want to belong to society, if they want to be accepted within our community, they can't engage in that kind of behavior.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's important for society at large, but can men themselves find redemption, rehabilitation at that point?

BURGO: I think they can. It depends on a number of factors. First, the remorse has to be genuine. It can't be a PR spin. It has to be expressed to the victims themselves so that the victims have a genuine sense that their pain is being acknowledged. And I think it can be healing for both people in that way. If the victim can feel heard, which is what she never was before - she can feel heard. If the remorse is genuine, she can forgive. And then the perpetrator can feel forgiveness and try to do better in the future. It can be good for all parties.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do we know when someone is beyond redemption, though?

BURGO: When people make repeated denials in public and persist in calling the multiple accusers liars, I think there's a pretty good sign that they're beyond redemption. When people are - have committed heinous crimes repeatedly over years - Harvey Weinstein comes to mind - that sort of personality seems to be incapable of empathy. And without the capacity for empathy, without the capacity to feel how you have affected somebody else and hurt her, you can never feel guilt and then try to make reparations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, many women at this point feel that it's even too early in this movement to be having this conversation, to be worrying about the rehabilitation of bad men. You know, for example, even if they weren't like Harvey Weinstein, serial harassers may have, you know, stunted the employment opportunities of women throughout their career. Why should we care what happens to men after they've been shamed?

BURGO: If we don't, they are nothing more than their crime. They're monsters - is the word you hear thrown around a lot. So if we just make them into monsters who have no separate existence or redeeming values apart from the crimes they committed, well, that's dehumanizing, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is it difficult, in your view, to be standing in judgment of people?

BURGO: I think that we have to decide what we expect from them, what sort of response we want through this public shaming. And I think that, you know, we need to make room for the possibility of remorse and forgiveness. I think if we utterly exclude someone and treat them as if they're subhuman, a monster unfit for human companionship, then we leave no room for them to come forward. It becomes an unbearable kind of shame. I don't think that serves anyone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Joseph Burgo. He's a clinical psychologist, author, and has a forthcoming book called "Shame." Thank you so much.

BURGO: Thank you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And next week on the Call-In, fever, chills, coughing, sore throat. The flu can be a mild inconvenience or something very serious. What are your questions about the bad flu season we're going through? Call in at 202.216.9217. Be sure to include your full name, where you're from and your phone number, and we may use it on the air. That's 202-216-9217.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, Harvey Weinstein was referred to as a rapist. While he has been accused of rape and other sexual assaults, he has not been convicted of any such crimes.]

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