I was surprised to read on Twitter a respected journalist who campaigns for mental health balk at the suggestion Harvey Weinstein might suffer from a mental illness. Another said, definitively, that he was not a sex addict, that he was an abuser. I thought to myself: “But you can be all three: you can be a sex addict, have mental health issues and be an abuser.”
The sex addict/mentally ill-abuser is very familiar to me. Among the things my ex would do was follow me around the house masturbating. Sometimes he’d be in a bathrobe, sometimes not. I remember washing my hair in the shower and opening my eyes to see him on the other side of the glass, masturbating. In restaurants he would follow me to the loo trying to grope me, like a Benny Hill character with hands outstretched, flexing for a squeeze. No matter where we were — train, car, meeting, church — he’d grab my hand to his priapic crotch. If he’d taken me to a basement to watch him masturbate into a plant pot, I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. He would call me at work to audibly orgasm from the other end of the line. A female colleague I confided in was terrified of answering my phone.
What makes these incidents worse is that on some level they are funny. When he joked about his behaviour, his friends would laugh. “Typical” him, they’d say, as I’m sure it was said a million times that Weinstein’s behaviour was “typical Harvey”. No one thought: “It must be humiliating for her. What’s actually going on here?” They thought: “If she doesn’t like it, she should leave.” (But as any enlightened person knows, it isn’t that simple.)
I spent 10 years of my life with this man. He was a sex addict who was also very abusive and, yes, he had mental health issues. His modus operandi was not, like Weinstein, about chasing other women. It was about a full-on obsession with me. Oh yes, and he loved pornography. And imposing ideas he’d picked up from pornography on me — among them, slapping me during sex and ejaculating in my face for “the money shot”.
The reason I’m writing this down is because these behaviours are by no means confined to the “glamour” of Hollywood, or starlets, or models. It’s everywhere. Look around you. And then look around you again.
There is a saying, “Beware the charming man”. My ex is charming, clever and funny. His shtick is making risqué comments about sex. People would say: “I love the way he’s so outrageous, he says things other people just wouldn’t.” Yup, he definitely has no boundaries.
He’s also utterly convincing. At the end of our relationship, when a friend confronted him over the things he’d done, he said it was because he loved me, because he found me so attractive he couldn’t help himself. The subtext was that I should be flattered.
He made a big deal of confessing to some of it. He made a fuss of his attendance at intensive rehabilitation courses, therapy and at Sex Addicts Anonymous. And then he’d call me up angry and accuse me of talking about it to people. Didn’t I get that it was my fault in the first place?
Sex and money are big markers in abuse — they often go hand-in-hand as ways to control women. If I worked, it was a problem — if I didn’t I was utterly dependent on him. Weinstein’s sexual advances were only possible because they were inextricably entwined with his power to offer paid work to women who needed to earn a living. Rejection meant having their reputations trashed by well-placed gossip — slander, basically — and they would be susceptible to his much-stroked and menacing phrase: “You’ll never work in this town again.”
Weinstein’s was a case of predatory sexual behaviour in plain sight. So was my ex’s. I’m assuming — hoping — his friends didn’t know how much worse his behaviour became once they’d said goodbye and driven home to comfortable beds where they could fall asleep in peace. I’m assuming none thought I was in danger. Or maybe they did and they turned a blind eye. They certainly teased me. They might ask me how many times a day I “had to” have sex. (One started to date someone with a similarly dangerous libido and phoned me after having to perform 15 times in one weekend to ask if I had any tips on how to “speed up” each ordeal.)
Even when my ex would pull out his member, “Oh God that’s so typical” was the response, as well as a lot of giggling and repeating of “Oh-God-he’s-so-terrible — isn’t-he-terrible?”
“I don’t know how you put up with it,” was the closest anyone came to acknowledging it was unacceptable. But it was said with a hearty laugh.
Behind the closed bedroom door, his behaviour was so much worse. If I didn’t want to have sex I was accused of “withholding”, of being a “bad girlfriend”. The light would be snapped on, the duvet ripped off and the berating would begin. I was overweight, I was losing my looks, no one else would find me attractive — did I know that? Did I know he was the only person who would find me attractive? He even told me my vagina was ugly.
It wasn’t enough to do other intimate things to him to get out of the sex — penetrative sex was the only thing that counted. And he kept a record of how often he got it.
On one occasion, after what he termed a two-week famine, he “staged” a rape on me, saying after he’d gone through the “motions” of wrestling my clothes off, pinning me down with his hand over my mouth and pressing down on me with full force, that I was “over-reacting” because I called the police. In the end, I didn’t press charges.
Frequently he would do things to me when I was asleep, and I would wake up to him masturbating with his fingers inside me. I showed him a case in the newspaper where someone was jailed for this under sexual assault and he laughed and said: “How is that assault if a woman waking up a man with a blowjob wouldn’t be?”
He loved to say that women who experienced marital rape and domestic abuse would hate me — despise me — for suggesting my experiences were in any way comparable. The only time he would apologise was if I cried. Then he would say that I “pushed his buttons”.
At this point I’m sure you’re screaming: “Why did I think any of this was permissible behaviour?” There is not space enough here for an exposition on my childhood or teenage experiences, but actually none of that was extremely unusual. The main point is that by the time it got really bad I was in too deep. And I did try to reason, to argue that he shouldn’t behave like this, that it was wrong. Why didn’t I leave him? I did many times, and he would win me back, apologetic and chastised. He was skilled in cajoling and very, very persistent.
His big fantasy that he never got to enact was urinating on me. He asked to do this countless times, saying: “Why not? My last girlfriend let me.” Apparently I was a prude for saying no.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there is no reliable data on sexual violence in relationships because it is so under-reported. In its advice on sexual abuse, the NHS says evidence suggests 45 per cent of all rape is committed by partners, and less likely to come to the police than rape committed by strangers because of this under-reporting.
Since most women who experienced sexual harassment or abuse or rape when I was in my teens and 20s were not taken seriously, they didn’t bother to tell. The idea that women were “asking for it” was still prevalent.
Some of the Weinstein cases go back decades, too. Unfortunately, society’s hard-wired acceptance of women being objectified and harassed is hard to reverse. It means that these behaviours will continue long after the media’s obsession with Weinstein is sated.