Melanie Landau

Bystander as Persecutor! Getting our sh#t together around Eros

Yet another story breaks the news.  Another perpetrator. Another victim. Many rescuers. Sexual harassment in the Jewish community. The corruption of power. The hurts of sexism. Re-traumatisation. What is the way out of this labyrinth?

As the demonisation and targeting of the current perpetrator rises to a crescendo, I am sitting here with discomfort. I do not condone abuse of power in any way. I think that deep consent — a hell yes — not a maybe — is the holy grail of human relationships. There is no way into the temple, the holy of holies of intimacies without deep respect and presence. Consent is the basic building block of this presence, totally indispensable, but for my taste, not even enough.

We are missing the mark about dealing with sexual harassment in the community if we think that all we have to do is react to newsbreaking events about the next man of status taking advantage of a woman he comes across. Condemning and targeting the abuser and having compassion and understanding towards the survivor is not going to cut it. The abuses and the hurts and the darkness around eros implicates each one of us. We are all responsible. Taking responsibility for our own shadow material- things about ourselves that we do not want to acknowledge, things that may not even have arisen to our consciousness, is a crucial piece of making the community safer for everyone.

We would be able to respond with much more power and clarity if we can be in more conscious and right relationship with our own eros. We don’t need to wait until another story hits the press. We don’t need to wait until we are in an uncompromising situation ourselves — as perpetrator or as victim. We can act now to empower ourselves and in so doing, to empower others out of this cycle of drama, out of this victim, perpetrator, rescuer dynamic that never ends. This position of rescuer is not neutral. It feeds into the cycle of drama. For as long as we are not owning our own erotic energy, for as long as we are not owning our shadows around power and our own neediness, for as long as we are not owning our own sexual predator, sexual seductress and victim energy, then we are complicit in creating an environment where sexual harassment can take place.

Owning our erotic energy

Connecting to our lifeforce energy which includes our sexual energy helps us feel more alive. We may have some deep shame connected to our humanness and our basic existence that may come up as we connect to this energy.  Although it can be immensely healing to work through these issues, it can take courage to allow these feelings to come up and that may be a deterrent for someone in claiming their erotic energy. It helps to work with a trusted companion who can serve as a mirror for us and help us get in touch with the original innocence at the root of being human.

Owning our shadows around power and neediness

Instead of looking at someone and wondering how they could act in a way that takes advantage of other people, we need to find that part in ourselves, even if it is so miniscule, and relate to this human quality. Montaigne said that “nothing human is foreign to me”. How do we embody this?

It is helpful to find some form of identification with every aspect of humanity because then it means that we  don’t stigmatise people and isolate them, it means that we don’t pretend we are something we are not, and it means that we are aware and conscious that we have a vast potential of different behaviours and capabilities.

In particular around power, when we have been hurt in certain ways we carry both the victim experience but we have also internalised the oppressor experience. An example of this may be that we have a place inside us where we feel unloved and where we yearn to be fully seen and maybe even adored. When we are in a relationship where finally someone seems to be seeing us, they may even be projecting their own light and power on to us so they see us so shine so brightly, we may be tempted to drink in all this projection because of our own lack and vulnerability. But in this situation the right response is for us to acknowledge our own vulnerability about our deep hurts and needs and for us to return the power and light back to the person where it belongs.

Owning our sexual predator and sexual seductress

If I didn’t believe that we as humans can relate to all human experience, I wouldn’t have the courage to own my sexual predator material. For as long as we project out this material on to others, then we make the community less safe for everyone. One expression of unowned sexual predator energy is the intensity of the targeting that goes on towards those people responsible for sexual harassment and abuse. (Do not misinterpret what I am saying to excuse abusive behaviour. I am in no way justifying abusive behaviour!) What does owning our sexual predator material look like or involve? A good place to start is to get really honest about some of our fantasies. To dare to tell the truth to ourselves about times when we could have taken advantage of someone, where we could have misused power that we have, times when we wanted something irrespective of whether or not someone else wanted it. Times when our desire would be so strong that it would blind and deafen the sensitivity that we would usually exercise in relationship. What about times when we wanted someone to notice us, times when we wanted someone to fall into our gaze? We all have these parts. We do ourselves and our communities a disservice when we deny them.

Owning our victim

For as long as we are getting pay-offs from being in a victim position in relation to our lives in general, and to eros in particular then we perpetuate the cycle of drama. Pay-offs for being a victim include being stuck in a sense of helplessness and or righteousness instead of taking the risk and experiencing the fear of trying new responses. Another pay- off could be continually blaming someone else for our situation instead of sitting long enough with our deep pain and being able to release it.

Dear friends, each of these injunctions is demanding and consuming. None of it can be done without huge amounts of patience, compassion and self-love. It is not for the fainthearted. We need to invoke the warrior who may be sleeping inside us. Or in this case, the warrior who is intent on fighting the good fight- hanging another perpetrator on the stake- this warrior can be redirected for stalking the shadow, for the fight on the inside. The fight on the inside that will change the outside. The fight on the inside that helps us reclaim the power that is ours. This hunting can only be done with great sweetness — that is the best of our love and our compassion.

About the Author
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Rabba Dr Melanie Landau has 20 years of experience in guiding individuals and groups in transformative processes.and cultivating the sacred. She is committed to the creativity and vitality of a living breathing expansive Torah. She is a couples therapist, empowerment coach and group facilitator. She can be reached on: