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Sexual Misconduct: A Growing List

Sexual misconduct allegations take emotional toll for loved ones of those accused

Discovering that a friend, family member, or colleague has been accused of sexual misconduct can be so jarring, it's almost akin to experiencing the death of a loved one, experts say.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many across the country are speaking publicly about sexual harassment, shining a light on unacceptable behavior from individuals who may in other circumstances be beloved members of their communities.

Image: Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo march in response to high-profile sexual harassment scandals
Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo march in response to high-profile sexual harassment scandals on Nov. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles. David McNew / Getty Images file

Their words not only impact the perpetrators, but also have a ripple effect on the perpetrators' social circles. Psychologists say it's normal for friends, relatives and co-workers to struggle with learning about misconduct that is incongruous with their perception of an individual otherwise admired or respected.

"Initially there's a denial of not believing this could be true, or trying to potentially make excuses, and slowly moving through it, they find out more, and try to figure out what exactly happened," said Dr. Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who wrote a book called "Overcoming Trauma and PTSD." She compared it to the stages of grief experienced after a death.

The challenge, Raja added, is that when someone we love does something deplorable, it goes against our inclination to categorize people as "completely good or completely bad."

"People have many aspects to themselves. Often times, we don't know about something that somebody has done," she said. "There are people that do really good things in one area, but can abuse their power with something else."

Related: Here’s a growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct

In one of the most recent examples of men accused of sexual wrongdoing, nine women alleged famed playwright Israel Horovitz had harassed or assaulted them. The allegations were first reported by The New York Times earlier this week.

His son, Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys, told the Times in a statement: "I believe the allegations against my father are true, and I stand behind the women that made them."

A spokesman for the younger Horovitz told NBC News he would not be commenting further on his father. While more details about his relationship with his father weren't clear, experts say in these cases — whether it involves a family member or a trusted colleague — working through dueling emotions can be painful and difficult.

"It's a mourning process," said Samantha Manewitz, a licensed social worker and sex therapist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who specializes in sexual trauma. "Here is a person who you trust. Now you have to square this with this alternative narrative of this person."

Matt Lauer has been terminated from NBC News 3:16

That process played out publicly in real-time on Wednesday morning, when NBC's Savannah Guthrie announced on "Today" that longtime co-anchor Matt Lauer had been abruptly terminated overnight following a detailed complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.

An emotional Guthrie, who had just learned the news before going on the air, said she was heartbroken.

"How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?"

Image: Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie embrace at the end of the show
Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie embrace at the end of the show on the set of NBC's Today Show on Nov. 29, 2017 in New York. It was announced on Wednesday morning that long time Today Show host Matt Lauer had been fired for alleged sexual misconduct. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

A similar question came up after talk show host and veteran journalist Charlie Rose was fired amid accusations unwanted sexual advances.

"What do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I'm really grappling with that," Rose's co-host of "CBS This Morning," Gayle King, said.

Related: Since Weinstein, here’s a growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct

And Sarah Silverman, after fellow comedian Louis C.K. admitted that he had engaged in sexual misconduct, asked, "Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them? I can mull that over later, certainly, because the only people that matter right now are the victims."

These questions are common, said Laura Palumbo, a certified sexual assault counselor and communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, who added that there's no right or wrong way to feel after finding out someone you care about has committed sexual violence.

She added that sometimes people maintain a rapport with a loved one, even after finding out they're a perpetrator.

"For individuals who are friends and family, they likely don't want to just cut the person out. Most often times, they want the individual to get the help they need, take accountability for their actions, and begin to work to not only change their behaviors, but to provide whatever support they can offer to the person they've caused harm to," she said.

Palumbo said many people, as they process their emotions, find comfort in taking empowering steps toward preventing future sexual violence.

"Think about how you can re-examine your own actions. Be an active bystander. Donate to organizations that work to prevent sexual violence and teach the individuals and children in your life the importance of respecting others," she said.