Advice from a former serial sexual predator: In the Era of Harvey Weinstein, Break the Predator’s Fantasy!

Holy cow, they’re coming out of the woodwork. New allegations about new sexual predators are being published every day, it seems, in the wake of the scandal involving (former) Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. It’s likely just the tip of an enormous iceberg of male behavior that’s been buried for centuries under the banner “boys will be boys,” and yet we really know very little about motivations or pathology. We think we know, but we really don’t.

The general consensus about people like Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Terry Richardson, Robert Scoble, and the many others accused of sexual harassment of late is that they are sexist egomaniacs who are full of shit assholes (or even worse)! They are horrible representatives of the human race for whom there is no redemption, and they need to be locked away, perhaps even permanently. This is the perceived view of the whole #MeToo movement, and it’s hard to argue with it, because the behavior of these men is utterly indefensible; there is no “but” permitted in the discussion of sexual harassment, a lesson I learned many years ago.

The first time I heard the words “sexual harassment” associated with my name was during an exit interview long ago with the Human Resources head of a company I was leaving. “We just want you to be aware, Mr. Heaton, that we have two complaints on file concerning you and the sexual harassment of employees.” I acknowledged the events listed, but I was too stunned to say anything further. One event I shamefully had to admit to myself was accurate, and I felt terrible about it. The other, however, was — from my perspective — way overstated, but my opinion didn’t matter, because I’d made this person feel uncomfortable. The only thing about these events, in my mind, that was disconcerting was why nobody said anything at the time, so that I could have had a chance to at least apologize.

I would go on to repeat this bad behavior for years, until I crashed and burned as an addict to many things. Addiction, according to Craig Nakken, is a “pathological love and trust relationship with an object or event.” Welcome to my world.

I’ve been a member of a 12-Step program for sex addicts for longer than I care to remember. Sex addiction is very hard to overcome, and although it follows the familiar recovery model of admission, trusting a Higher Power, inventory, confession, amends, and helping others, behavioral changes are another matter entirely. Sex is not like alcohol, where the initial approach of “don’t drink” is also a part of the end result. It’s much more complicated than that with sex, because the act itself isn’t problematic; it’s what lies beneath that we all need to be thinking about in the era of Harvey Weinstein. This assumes that our culture wishes to prevent such behavior in the future. It does no good, except as a form of catharsis perhaps, to merely raise our voices in anger and disgust at Weinstein’s behavior. Besides, we need to arm women with knowledge of how to respond to predatory behavior in a way that will diffuse the situation rather than have it worsen.

Now of course I have no knowledge that Harvey Weinstein, et al, are sex addicts. Only they know for certain, but their histories fit the pattern, and their behavior reminds me a lot of my own transgressions while acting out. This does not excuse or diminish in any way the awful deeds that are coming to light. It merely gives us a different starting point in our attempts at prevention downstream and to give women different weapons to use when confronted by such on the job, at the grocery store, or even at church, or in counseling.

To a lot of people, sex addiction represents drooling and nasty reprobates masturbating while under the spell of pornography. Porn can certainly be a part of it, but a sex addict with only a porn addiction is a lucky one, for he or she hasn’t been touched by behavior that involves other people — yet. So let me tell you a bit about me, because I can speak with authority on the topic.

I was sexually abused as a little boy, felt responsible for it, hated myself, ran from myself, felt my needs would never be met by other people, so I unconsciously created a new persona that would live on my behalf. This mask was the opposite of my true self, because I just knew that there was something wrong with me and I would be vanquished and alone if anybody ever found out. I needed to master a musical instrument, for example, because I felt my real self would never be able to do so. I would only try things that I felt I had a significant chance of actually accomplishing. Failure just wasn’t an option. In all things, I needed to be a number one man, because I felt the least of all men. I needed power, because I felt so powerless, and so I became a leader in my field and worked for many, many years in a way resembling that of Mr. Weinstein, as the boss surrounded by pretty people in media.

I became a charming (or not) serial sexual predator. There’s a very telling line in a document called “The Problem” that I encountered in various SAA meetings: “But the second time was not the same.” Here’s the context:

We started young. The discovery of masturbation and sex was the greatest thing that had happened to us and we wanted more. We sought out that incredible high again and again. Sex became our best and closest friend. We used sex when we were down in order to feel better. We used sex when we felt good to reward ourselves. Desire was the only emotion we knew. All other emotions were swallowed up in the rush of sex.

But the second time was not the same. We needed ever-new activities and new stimulation. And, so, our addiction grew.

But the sex didn’t satisfy the real need. We were left empty and alone with feelings of guilt, shame and remorse over what we had done. We made solemn promises to ourselves and tearful assurances to others that we would never do that again. But we could not keep our promises. We tried to stop and couldn’t. No matter how long between times; days, weeks, months, or even years, the urge would come back with renewed strength. No matter what we did to keep control, nor how long we managed to stop, the time would come when the addiction called us out. We would be blind to the consequences and compelled to do it again.

Again, this is not provided as a means of defending anything, because acting out is not something that can be excused, and ownership of this “problem” is the first step to ending it. This is a progressive disease that includes a slowly growing boldness, more risk, more self-degradation, more, more, more. Nothing is ever enough, and soon the thrill that came with the first time becomes the impossible master of the addict. My master drove me downward to a place where every encounter with a woman became a potential opportunity that just had to be explored. Some events required a long period of grooming while others were based in immediate circumstances. I forgot completely my true identity, and melancholy with accompanying thoughts of suicide became my closest friend. Sex addicts are always highly manipulative liars, although we don’t think about that in the moment. We are worn out at the end of the day, because one lie begets another, and so it goes. We are also HIGHLY adept at perceiving emotions of others and using those emotions to our advantage. We seduce in a relentless power game of “I want you to want me more than I want you.” As perceptive as we are, we are sitting ducks for lies that make their way into our thinking, such as “she really wants me” in a thousand variations.

A simple innocent smile becomes a come-on, and so it goes.

Inevitably, our false persona crashes as it must, for no one can sustain such rampant lies forever. No one. We are always found out, because truth cannot be covered up indefinitely. In Mr. Weinstein’s case, this was evident in the many out-of-court settlements he made with victims rather than let the truth come out. A man with the resources he had can perhaps sustain disbelief longer than others, but eventually, he will get so wrapped up in fallacy that his world will collapse in on him. In fact, he knows it will and in the ongoing war between the self and the ego, a part of him is actually hoping to get caught.

At this point, I need to say that you may disagree with everything that comes after. My truth may not be yours, but I offer this in the good faith hope that the reader will approach it with an open mind.

More than anything, the sex addict’s mind is confused. When acting out, that mind is filled with voices egging him on in support of his single goal and that is to feel a sense of power and control that he knows deep inside he doesn’t deserve. This fantasy that he’s feeding requires a certain response from his victim, capitulation to his demands in such a way as to validate his illusion of power over her. The words “stop” or “no” are meaningless in this context, as are any other logical responses, because the perpetrator is insane. Consider the Weinstein repetition of the bath robe and a massage. No man in his right mind would use this approach over and over again in the wake of the many, many rejections, coverups, and payoffs.

The harasser is in a psychotic fantasy, and I think we need to teach women to get mad when confronted by unwanted advances. Let all emotions be channeled through anger, even explosive anger. Go ahead and be shocked, because I think that’s a natural reaction. But condition yourself to immediately step outside that and do or say whatever’s necessary to embarrass the predator. Create a line that you can store away and bring it to the surface when you need it. Perhaps remind him of the pathetic little boy that he really is. Ask what his mother would think in that moment if she were present. Break the fantasy! Don’t capitulate and especially don’t cower in fear, because this is what he’s hoping for and expecting. Channel fear into anger. Strike out, if you have to, especially if he has exposed himself. “Are you fucking serious? Are you an adult or a child?” Again, break the fantasy. Break. The. Fantasy. You can do it, because your predator is actually quite afraid that he will be rejected and vanquished to an isolated corner of humanity. Reject the persona that his ego is presenting and penetrate directly to the cowering self. For a great illustration of this, read Zoe Brock’s story Harvey Weinstein and I at The Hotel Du Cap.

I’m fortunate, however, to have a gene that makes me really angry and focused when I’m scared. It’s gotten me out of more than one scrape and it wasn’t going to fail me now. I shrugged Harvey’s hands off me, ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Harvey chased me, dick, balls and all, and banged on the door with his fists, pleading with me to come out.
There was no bathroom phone. Dammit! I looked around. Nothing but little bottles of fancy toiletries and a hair dryer. I was going to have to talk myself out of this one.
I felt outside of my body as I assessed my situation and heard myself, a 23 year old girl from New Zealand, reprimand this grown man as if he was a small child.
“This is unacceptable. Put your clothes on you naughty, naughty boy.”
Harvey, contrite, promised to cover himself and leave me alone. I came out of the bathroom and found him sitting on his bed, wearing a bathrobe, crying.
“You don’t like me because I’m fat.” He whimpered.
“Are you serious?” I yelled. “I’m fucking furious at you. You chased me around naked and scared me. You acted like a friend and then tricked me. This is no way to behave. Shame on you.”
“I’m sorry.” He cried. “How can I make it up to you?”
“Get me home. Now.”

Active sex addicts are quite judgmental and place people into categories of their own making. The way she smiles, for example, or the look in her eye that we perceive, or her make-up and her dress. Yes, the way she is dressed can be a trigger for men caught in the throes of sex addiction, unless and until they are able to find help. This is not to blame victims, for no woman is responsible for the way a man acts or reacts. That is owned entirely by the guy doing the harassment, abuse, or whatever. A predator is looking for any sign that will urge him onward, and that includes his false perception that the way a woman is dressed is about him.

Another factor that enters in is the seeming cultural acceptance of women who really do “sleep their way to the top.” In this case, a woman uses her sexual charms to influence any decision on her behalf — whether it involves the act of sex or not — and this includes employment. Since a sex addict is always searching for signs that validate his predatory response to a woman, imagine for a moment the effect on the addict’s mind when he actually runs into someone who is not only compliant, but aggressively so? Who is seducing whom in such a scenario? And let me tell you that this is more common than you might believe. I’ve had women literally throw themselves at me in order to get a job, and this only furthered my predatory illusions. I had one applicant who showed up with a short skirt and no underwear and went out of her way to display herself, I assume, to try and influence me. The fact that this happens AT ALL contributes to the confusion in the addict’s mind — and perhaps even men in general — and we can’t discount a whole genre of porn that caters to the myth of the all powerful employer, supervisor, doctor, counselor, or whomever. I predict that every adult studio is today planning a Weinstein take off, which says a lot more about all of us than we would ever care to accept.

Are sex addicts bad people? Can we ever be trusted again?

We’re not bad people. We’ve done bad things, but there are ways to deal with such that we can fully embrace. To some victims, we can make direct amends via letter, but for others, we need to just stay away and make living amends through changed behavior. Why should we re-victimize women in our attempts to make ourselves feel better? Isn’t that a form itself of harassment? We hate ourselves more than you could possibly imagine, and one loses one’s ability to be truly productive in such an awful place. We can, however, learn to like ourselves, and that will produce the kind of reaction to life that will make us more likable. However, and this is the biggie, we can never truly regain the trust that we gave away while acting out. That, I’m afraid, is our life sentence, and it’s hard but understandable under the circumstances. An alcoholic can regain trust by making living amends through simply not drinking over time. That’s not the case with sex addicts, and it’s a hard pill to swallow in the end. Swallow it, however, we must.

I got sober at an older age, and if anything I’ve written here rings true for male readers, I strongly recommend you seek out professional help and that you reach out to support groups, such as SA or better yet, SAA.

The point is you’re not as alone as you think, and a profound alteration in your reaction to life is available if you want it.