Imagine you’re a woman (if you’re not one already). You wake up, get ready for work, and leave home. On the way to the nearby tube station you walk past some roadworks but, as you pass by, you’re catcalled by the workmen who direct some suggestive language your way. Your heart starts to beat faster, but in order not to cause more embarrassment, you ignore them and move on. You enter the station and jump onto a busy tube; halfway through your journey a male passenger thinks it’s acceptable to touch you inappropriately. You freeze, shocked and humiliated by what has just happened, but before you have any time to respond, he’s left at the next stop and nobody else has noticed. You exit the tube and enter your workplace, already feeling like this day can’t get any worse. During your performance review, the senior male colleague who you report to, and who is married, touches your leg suggestively, intimating that a promotion may be coming your way if you comply with his advances. You leave your meeting, bewildered, ashamed and, quite frankly, exhausted.
These incidents are just a flavour of the recent tweets and Facebook posts we have seen on our feeds, ranging from well-known celebrities, all the way to our closest friends. A 2017 YouGov poll found that half of all 18-24 year olds have been sexually harassed in the last five years . Meanwhile according to a recent Crime Survey for England and Wales, over the last year there has been an increase in reported rapes (22%), an increase in reported incidents of sexual activity with a child under 16 (31%), and an increase in reported sexual grooming (51%) . And then there are all the unreported incidents we don’t hear about. Although nobody really knows the extent of these incidents, the recent #MeToo campaign gives us a good indication that the problem is even more widespread than the statistics suggest.
In the past, we have often associated the sexual exploitation of women with certain types of cultures, where women hold an especially low status in society, and where the acceptance of domestic violence is pervasive. In India for example, a UNICEF report found that 57% of boys and 53% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 thought wife-beating was justified . Even in highly religious contexts and ‘modesty cultures’, which seek to prevent undesirable sexual behaviour through separation and strict clothing requirements, the objectification of women is still a major problem. In the Taliban-controlled provinces of Afghanistan for example, where women are required to cover themselves, this hasn’t actually extinguished the problem of sexual assault and harassment. In fact, what occurs is the sexualisation of women’s ankles, eyes, and hands, still rendering them objects to be sexually preyed upon.
The recent public scandals around sexual harassment, involving figures like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, have caused us to pause and think about why this is still an issue in our apparently progressive and developed society. It’s easy to put these incidents in a box, and to paint this as something which concerns a minority. We distance ourselves from the perpetrators, reassured that we are not capable of their crimes. The singer Morrissey, commenting on recent events, attempted to describe this: ‘Of course, there are extreme cases. Rape is disgusting. Every physical attack is repulsive. But we have to see it in relative terms. Otherwise, every person on this planet is guilty’ .
But what if these aren’t just the isolated actions of sexual predators? What if this problem is far more deeply embedded in our social fabric than we know? Dare I suggest that it might even be because of you and me?
Many men, myself included, could safely say, for example, that we have never coerced or forced another person to engage sexually against their will. Some of us could again honestly claim that we have never groped or touched someone inappropriately. And an even smaller number of us could go on to assert that we can’t recall a time where we’ve made a sleazy comment or a sexual innuendo towards somebody else. So far, we’ve done pretty well and we’re ‘good’ people – unlike the Weinsteins of the world that we’re so far removed from. But what if the issue isn’t just about the act of sexual harassment itself, but about the deeper problem that lies behind it? The systemic problem we are all aware of, but can’t quite put our finger on? Where does this ‘crisis of masculinity’ actually come from?
The issue lies a couple of steps before an act is engaged in, or anything is even said. It’s not a new problem, nor is it a unique crisis to our modern age; two thousand years ago, this was still very much a pertinent issue. A surprising commentator to add to the many voices we have heard recently – amongst the articles, tweets and Facebook rants – is a 33-year-old Jewish man named Jesus, who came from northern Israel. Jesus spoke out about the sexual conduct of his generation and stunned his followers and observers alike with his words:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
His listeners were shocked. In a far more religious society than ours today, people were well aware of the immorality of cheating on your spouse. Indeed, many may have felt quite comfortable with their sense of fidelity and sexual morality. But to just look lustfully at someone? Suddenly, this concerned everyone – men and women, married and unmarried. Even the ‘sexually moral’ were now guilty. Jesus had raised the bar higher, and for a particular reason. He was sending the message that simply requiring that people restrain their outward conduct wasn’t actually going to deal with the inward cause of sexual immorality.
That issue is with the human heart. An indicator of this today is the rapid growth in the use of pornography, a supposedly harmless pursuit in self-gratification, but which has slowly taught us to reduce the actors we see on screen to mere flesh, to people who are not human beings worthy of dignity, but objects of sexual desire alone. Even if some of us are not guilty of the acts we hear about on the news, the root of these disordered acts are our disordered hearts and it is something everyone expresses to different degrees. From the ‘harmless’ everyday sexism which we sometimes witness on our streets, to the sexualised use of Tinder, everyone is in some sense guilty of this sort of sexual objectification, of using someone else for your own self-gratification.
Jesus doesn’t just leave us here, he points us to the incredible healing we can have through God’s love and forgiveness, in a radical transformation of our lives, both individually and culturally. He lived out his words by beautifully honouring women around him, and treating them with the dignity and honour so few in his society did. He demonstrated what the purest and most freeing sexuality is, what the truest masculinity is. He is the only one who can bring about the cultural change we so desperately need. He is the only answer for Harvey Weinstein and he is the only answer for us.
As the weeks pass by, and more stories break of sexual exploitation and immorality, it will be easy to look upon these perpetrators as villains finally caught in their acts of evil who should be punished for their actions. Of course, as many have pointed out, the right response is to urge everyone to consider how we treat others, for radical change in how we view each other as human beings – as worthy of respect. But when we step away from the public noise, and consider our own hearts, the Weinstein sickness is to a degree one we all share, and which we all need healing for.