The Silence Breakers and the Silencers

Image: TIME Magazine

I really want to get this life right.

I’ve been at it a while now, and most of the time it seems like I haven’t gotten any better than the day I started. I may have a few fleeting moments of clarity here and there; times when I feel as though I’ve wrapped my arms around the best way to be human—but it doesn’t linger very long, soon replaced by a horribly muddled mess that I can’t seem to find my way out of; an ever-growing list of the balls I’ve dropped and the marks I’ve missed. My progress is always tempered with failure.

I think humanity is that way. We have these brief, radiant flashes when goodness rises up and we all recognize our better selves, but it quickly yields to another disheartening reminder of how far we have to go. We see heroically radiant things emerging from the thick darkness that necessitated it.

When TIME announced that its Person of the Year would be the “Silence Breakers” (the women and men who’ve stepped into the light to share their sexual assault survival stories and launched the #MeToo movement), it was one of those explosive bursts of hope. It felt like the planet finally getting it right; a welcome rain of rightness to a place so parched for it.

And the Silence Breakers are fully worthy of this moment, fully deserving of our reverence and gratitude and celebration. They are reminding us what it means to be human; what dignity and courage and strength look like. They are crystallizing what we should aspire to in the little time we have here on the planet.

And yet even in this moment which feels like victory, there is the sick realization that the reason the Silence Breakers are necessary at all, is because the Silencers still inhabit this place. There are still people who do unthinkable damage and disregard the worth of those near to them—and so many more, who are more than willing to protect those people, to champion them, to harbor them, to vote for them. There are still men and women who intentionally or inadvertently quiet the voices of those most deserving to be heard, and who embolden those preferring they never speak.

As a man, I realize that I am not a detached, neutral third-party watching the Silence Breakers and the Silencers wage this war. I am always an active participant in it. I am at all times standing with either one side or the other; with the things I say, the media I consume, the stuff I cultivate in my head, the behavior I tolerate around me, the things I teach my children. In the trenches of the battle against sexual abuse, in ways that aren’t always easy to see but no less real—I am always choosing to break silence or to perpetuate it, to foster predators or oppose them, to change the temperature or acclimate to it. We all choose one side or the other.

I want to get this life right. I want to be someone who pushes back against the Silencers, someone who doesn’t force survivors to fend for themselves or to show us their humanity by exposing the trauma they’ve already had to walk through. 

I want to live in such a way that other men and women don’t have to be forced to make themselves vulnerable by fighting the Silencers who’ve damaged them. I want to live and help create a place where the Silencers never feel safe or powerful enough to do damage in the first place. 

Today I stand in full awe of the Silence Breakers, whether they make magazine covers or speak their truth loudly in relative anonymity. Their bravery is equally beautiful and no less planet-altering.

I also hope to better at being one of them.

Like the Silence Breakers, I want to be a light-shiner.

I want strike fear into the hearts of those who would do damage in secret.

Let me never be a Silencer.



22 thoughts on “The Silence Breakers and the Silencers

  1. I’m a child of the fifties and many stand on my shoulders, this new generation of Silence Breakers will have many in the future that will stand on their shoulders. Make Us Proud, it’s a BIG RESPONSIBILITY

  2. Not all silencers have evil intentions. Often people can be silencing the would be silence breakers without realizing it. Sometimes the offenders are also pillars of the community and that gets nearly the whole community to be silencers. Sometimes it is the real fear of ostracization from family and community that silence the would be silence breakers. The less power the would-be silence breaker has the more likely they will be silenced. This is why we need to believe them and investigate further.

  3. The Truth sets us free and allows the light to pierce and eventually shatter the darkness. Yes, the truth can be painful to embrace. Whatever the cost, no matter how much it hurts to come out of denial, the truth will always set us free.

    Let us decide to be people who live in the light.

  4. Thank you John. I’m glad you are who you are and that through all of the ugliness exposed and paraded on our television sets night after night and day after day you have been one of the voices of sanity. I’m not trying to “stroke your ego” I’m just appreciative of your light throughout . Thank you brother.

  5. “Today I stand in full awe of the Silence Breakers, whether they make magazine covers or speak their truth loudly in relative anonymity. Their bravery is equally beautiful and no less planet-altering.”

    Amen! The truth is that most Silence Breakers do speak in relative anonymity, and most pay a heavy price for speaking at all. They often lose friends, family, jobs, reputations… But, as one who has lost all those things for refusing to be silenced in the face of bullying and abuse, I like to quote a certain starship captain, “May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

  6. “As a human being, I realize that I am not a detached, neutral third-party watching the Silence Breakers and the Silencers wage this war. ”

    Fixed that for you. Nobody is on the sidelines of this struggle. To keep silent, to look away is to side with the silencers.
    Today, I’m just happy about the good news that these brave people are being honored after, in many cases, years of slander and suffering. Admitting the seriousness of the problem of sexual abuse is important, but let’s move on to eliminating the problem.

  7. On the radio I heard two men were raped by a County Official while unconscious and he, the rapist, taped both rapes. He was arrested, but now will be not charged. The victims don’t want the tape to be entered into evidence but it has to be shown in court and put into the public record so the prosecutors can not go forward with the indictment and trial. I was sickened, enraged, and saddened because I know if the victims try to press charges they will lose everything. And sure enough that is what happened.

    That County Official was fired, but if the tape was shown in court the two men could be fired from the private employers because job discrimination against LGBTQ people, or those that are suspected to be LGBTQ, can be fired in that county, without recourse or unemployment benefits. Also other employers could ban them from employment for the same reason. Their only recourse is to find work in a LGBTQ protected county, which is a two hour drive away. Two more sexual assault victims silenced!

    This, and other situations, force many #metoo victims to wait years and decades to come forward or stay silent forever. Even settlements do not punish the offender, who keeps on sexually assaulting more victims, and may force for the victim to stay silent, even to medical and religious personnel.

    Why do we tolerate and support this punishment of #metoo victims when they seek justice? Why must the rapists get more rights, beyond those afforded by the Constitution, than the victims? Why must the #metoo victims have to have their consensual sexual history put into public record? Why can’t we support and help the #metoo victims?

  8. As much as I like Al Franken I have joined others in writing to my Congresswomen to advocate for his stepping down. What a sad ending it is for his service to this country.

    I cannot stomach the Republican hypocrisy and want no part of the same behavior.

    When Franken steps down Democrats will actually be the party of family values and compassion that I always believed they were. Republicans will have no right to claim what has just been empty words to them without hearing what Democrats have had to listen to for 20+ years – whataboutism. Now it will be what about Trump? – what about Moore? What about Clarence Thomas?

    Republicans are the pro-fetus party after offering up their teenage daughters and adult sisters and wives as their sacrifice to creeper plutocracy. Teenage and adult women also have beating hearts and nervous systems and brain function. Republicans have promoted the idea that any woman who dares accuse a conservative of bad behavior will instantly be labeled a liar and conservative creeper behavior will reign unchecked. Republicans will only have to say – you are a woman – sit down and shut up – men are talking a few more times before women will learn once again to keep their mouths shut.

    Republicans please enjoy your 30 pieces of silver. We know that even the 8 years of pats on the head is our dinner before they screw us over. Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, cuts for the aged and infirm and even Military veterans are coming to ease the debt they have helped create with their wars and their greed. They have done all this while using God’s name. Blasphemy.

    Sometime in the future you might be old or infirm. Someone in your precious Wall Street or Republican administration might be extra greedy and cause or kick start a recession that will decimate your retirement just when you have to retire. They will do it because they can and they know they will never face the consequences. Maybe you too will have to learn to live with less and less as health care, food, housing and taxes keep rising and chewing up a bigger percentage of what we have to live on.

    • Republicans are already claiming the democrats are simply cleaning house as a political stunt to make Republicans look bad so they can go after Moore and Trump, because it’s the only way they can regain the house and or senate.

      Personally speaking I don’t care what their motive was to remove these men, but I must say even if their motives were purely about doing the right thing, the republicans will convince their base that they should remember that Liberals are the problem and must be controlled and if they have to support a pedophile to do it, so be it.

      Listen to what Laura Ingraham and Newt Gingrich have to say about the Dems cleaning house and their unbelievable attitudes about the women themselves.

      • Wow, there is a reason I do not watch Fox. Their hypocrisy is stunning. Newt Gingrich is a 2 time adulterer (that we know of) who was carrying on an affair with a co-worker who, along with a gaggle of other Republicans carrying on affairs, led the charge against Bill Clinton. He was later run out of Washington because of ethics violations. He carried on a 5 year affair with his now wife who claims to be a practicing Catholic. I didn’t think you can be a practicing Catholic while having an affair. But, whatever. She is going to be rewarded for her behavior by being the next Ambassador to the Vatican.

        Days before Comey announced his October surprise in 2016, Rudy Giuliani, was on Fox gleefully reporting that there was a fantastic surprise coming. Supposedly there was a whisper chain from the FBI to Giuliani’s ear. We were told then that the FBI ran mostly Republican because of their stance on Law and Order. We were told that the FBI was furious that Hillary was not prosecuted. Now a year later we are supposed to believe that they have all turned Democrat and are secretly trying to take out Trump and they care nothing about Law and Order.

        Republicans are the very, very best at throwing dirt before and after they do what ever it is themselves. I am beginning to see less and less differences between Trump and some Republicans. Sad

        Peace J Richards

  9. Just wondering John if you realize Hillary Clinton is the one who silenced women in Washington for 20 years after she attacked, belittled and besmirched the accusers of her husband

    • If what you say is true, you are of course equally angry with the spouses and other enablers of Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Blake Farenthold and Roy Moore, none of whom proposes to resign for their behavior?
      We’ll wait for a reply.
      P.S. Women are not responsible for men’s behavior.

    • Just wondering Mark if you realize Al Franken resigned while Roy Moore is still running with the full support of his party.

      Let’s quit playing the Hillary card and deal with reality here.

    • If Hillary Clinton was in any elected position in DC now that might be a valid argument. But you know Trump is an admitted sexual assault on women and that Roy Moore is trying to silence his accusers now. I hear the same thing statement, “why now?” In Moore’s case he was the one in power until recently. People say to the accusers “why did you wait decades” and then if they do tell immediately they aren’t believed because the attackers have power over the victims. It is as if they victims are purposefully made to be caught in a Catch-22 to protect the attackers.

  10. If I get elected, do you think Taylor Swift might go out with me—maybe to the drive in theater. Everyone is saying that she had some sort of plastic surgery operation—and well—maybe I’ll press my case in the back seat of my 1957 Chevy and get to take a look at it. Judging is my business you know, and who better to judge the quality than me. A lot of folks these days—like on CNN—are saying that I have a lot of experience with younger gals, so who better to judge? Right? I already got a song picked out for my magical evening: “If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me.”

    Roy—Shut up!!! You are in enough trouble already.

  11. Mark, please cease with the red herring and deal with the content of John’s piece. Or are you the type of man who doesn’t believe men sexually harass women and that’s why you are trying to divert the conversation?

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