Second chances. They're precious, beautiful things. Difficult to earn and not to be squandered. They don't come along often, and when they do, they must be handled with the utmost gratitude.
I'm one of those bleeding heart progressives who believes in rehabilitative justice. Second chances are an important part of my world view. I'd far rather live in a world where we aim to rehabilitate offenders than one where we simply lock them up and throw away the key. Punitive approaches hardly have glowing outcomes. We need only look at our recidivism statistics to know that.
As such, I believe that US comedian Louis CK should get a second chance. IF, that is, he makes amends and proves himself worthy of forgiveness.
Right now, however, it is too soon to even begin to think of his redemption. Too short a time has passed since he admitted that the accusations of no fewer than five women were true, and too little effort has been made to alleviate the suffering of his victims and regain the respect of the public. Second chances aren't something you can just order up when you feel like you're tired of dealing with the consequences of your actions. They have to be earned.
Louis CK performed an unannounced set at a New York comedy venue last Sunday, signalling an end to his exile from public life after he promised to "step back and take a long time to listen" in November. That "long time" is apparently over, just nine months later.
His appearance at the Comedy Cellar was unexpected. His audience had no opportunity to vote with their wallets and not buy tickets. He was thrust upon them without their consent, and - as anyone who has ever been to a comedy show knows - walking out in full view of the comic is hardly an option. Indeed, scratching your nose in a position where you can be seen by the comic is dangerous business. Whether they liked it or not, those punters became Louis CK's trial audience.
It was a trial of enormous significance. You can bet that almost every man whose crimes and/or indiscretions were revealed by #MeToo would have been watching the reaction to Louis CK's appearance this week. He became a kind of litmus test for the redemption of dirtbags. How long is long enough for "alleged" predators to sit on the sidelines? What is the required penance, once you've been revealed to be a sexual menace?
I'll venture an opinion on that front. Nine months is not it.
Time is only the first step. After a decent amount of time has elapsed (and by decent I mean years, not months) since the public exposure of revolting behaviour, active restorative efforts should follow. A long stint in therapy, public admissions of guilt, private offers of heartfelt apologies to victims, donations to relevant charities and eventual respectful, humble and dedicated advocacy around the issue of sexual harassment and/or abuse should be high on the must-do lists of every shamed predator. And not just with the aim of regaining their careers, but with the hope that they'll be able to look at themselves in the mirror without flinching.
That seems like a lot, doesn't it? Good. It should be. For too long we've excused abuse and enabled abusers to get away with their crimes without facing any consequences. For every man who has been publicly humiliated as a result of the #MeToo movement, there are many more women who have taken a step backwards or sideways to avoid more victimisation.
I'm one of them. By the time I was 24 I had been sexually harassed more times than I could count. Minimising the chances of experiencing sexual harassment was one of the reasons I decided to stop being a fulltime musician. I've been incredibly lucky that my shift in focus to pursue my love of writing has brought me an amazing amount of joy and satisfaction, but no one should have to change their career in order to feel safe.
I have no sympathy for the people who have been caught with their pants down doing things they definitely shouldn't have been doing by the #MeToo movement. They are not owed anything. They do not deserve pity. If they want to redeem themselves, they have a hard road ahead, which is exactly as it should be. Far too many of their kind will never be exposed, and will never face any consequences for their actions.
If the #MeToo movement is to mean anything, perpetrators cannot simply expect to re-enter public life when they feel they've suffered enough. As a society we must always remember that they are not the victims of their crimes. Their suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of the victims of sexual harassment and abuse.
Which is not to say that abusers should never be given the opportunity to seek redemption. In time, when they demonstrate that they have made amends, we can start talking about second chances.
Until then, Louis CK should sit down, shut his mouth, and go back to listening.