It’s over, at last.
The Bryon Hefner who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Suffolk Superior Court on Tuesday, appeared quite different from the swaggering player whom several men said sexually assaulted them in recent years. And it wasn’t just the long beard.
Hefner was sorry, he told the judge, for the pain he had caused. He cited his ongoing treatment for addiction and mental illness. He said he was separated from his husband, former Senate president Stan Rosenberg, whose power Hefner claimed a share of, and exploited to his own ends. That power fueled fear and made Hefner’s victims reluctant to report him before they told their stories to the Globe almost two years ago. Hefner further said he was no longer close to the world of politics, where he’d been a fixture for years, now working in the culinary industry.
It was a plea for freedom, pathetic but understandable. In exchange for admitting guilt on one count each of indecent assault, disseminating a nude photo without consent, and misdemeanor assault, and agreeing to register as a sex offender, Hefner, 32, was able to avoid six further charges, and the possibility of jail time.
His defense attorney, Tracy Miner, was after rather more, attempting to sweep away the full extent of his alleged transgressions, arguing they were “not what was reported in the press in the beginning.”
This, even though the attorney general’s case against Hefner mirrored the claims made by men who first spoke to the Globe in 2017, and added to them.
This is not to say the plea was offensive to all of Hefner’s victims. Two said they were satisfied with the way the case was resolved, and happy to have it over with.
“I feel freed,” one of the men Hefner admitted to assaulting said on Wednesday. “I can breathe. I’m living in a different world than I was yesterday.”
He, and others, were especially relieved that they would not have to take the stand, to surrender their anonymity and publicly relive the pain Hefner inflicted upon them.
“By avoiding the trial, we’ve secured a better justice, and ended the hurt,” this victim said.
That this is the best outcome Hefner’s victims could hope for is a measure of just how much work we have yet to do when it comes to holding people accountable for sexual assault.
As low as he has sunk, Hefner still has a kind of power, and it is lasting, barring massive societal transformation. It is the power of shame and stigma, which makes assault victims afraid to testify publicly, to reveal themselves for fear of being humiliated, or imperiling their careers, or being labeled with the things an abuser did to them.
“An imbalance persists between survivors and perpetrators even after a case is resolved,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “I understand what makes these victims express a preference for a guilty plea over a trial.”
A guilty plea to reduced charges shouldn’t be enough, but it’s more than many victims of sexual assault get. In any case, it won’t unring the bell: Some victims in the criminal case, and beyond it, have spent years trying to recover from Hefner’s alleged assaults, their lives derailed.
Still, this feels like a new chapter to some of them.
“No matter how important someone may be, people don’t have to sit there and be afraid,” said one of Hefner’s victims. “I want to give that lesson to my daughter when she’s older: That there are bad people in the world who do bad things, but there are a heck of a lot of good people, too.”
Perhaps by then, those good people will make it safe at last for survivors like her father to say their own names.