Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Since sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein arose earlier this fall, more than 30 well-known powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct. Unsurprisingly, many public statements from these men followed the accusations. These statements, which are barely apologies, are generally received negatively by the public due to their apparent lack of sincerity.
Genuine or not, the very nature of a public apology makes the issue more about the perpetrator than the victim. Men facing sexual misconduct allegations must use their power and status to aid the community of individuals they have harmed if they are going to be viewed as genuinely remorseful for their actions.
Public statements primarily serve as a line of communication between celebrities and the masses. This is not the ideal setting for a sincere, emotional apology. Many of the powerful men accused of sexual assault design their statements to preserve their own reputations. In doing so, an apology to others becomes damage control. In this context, damage control takes one of two general forms: denial or deflection.
Sen. Al Franken initially denied claims against him in his public apology, stating, "While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women's experiences." While the latter half of this statement is redeemable, it contradicts the first part. Franken, by saying he doesn't remember the situation the same way, doubts the validity of her experience.
Kevin Spacey deflected allegations against him by using his apology opportunity to come out as gay, saying, "This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life … I have had relationships with both men and women."
In both of these situations, the accused men didn't properly own up to their inappropriate and harmful actions, nor did they exhibit any understanding of the pain they've inflicted. Their attempts at public apologies were not only insincere but also selfish in their inability to express honest sympathy for those they harmed.
These apologies become insincere when accused men make a last-ditch effort to protect their reputations. Because these apologies are public, we see ego, denial and deflection slip into public statements more than they likely would in a private apology.
For that reason, these public apologies alone are not enough. These men should compensate for the toxic culture they've contributed to. They should be using their status and influence to alleviate this problem.
Contributions to organizations such as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network can make a big difference for those affected by sexual assault. Though donating and volunteering would not absolve the accused men of the damages they've done.
However, actively trying to remedy the culture of sexual misconduct will have some positive impacts on others — certainly more than a misguided apology. These apologies would appear much more sincere if those accused also engage in advocacy and action.
An apology should not rely on deflection or denial for the sake of upholding a reputation. Active advocacy is a better platform for sincerity than a public announcement. Powerful men accused of sexual assault should take note.
Sydney Wess is a junior art history and broadcast journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.