By: Anne Boyd Kirby, Contributor
Talk to women anywhere, and you will hear that each one of them has been cat called. I have experienced this both in America and in Cuba where I went on a mission trip, and this is a problem across the world. What is sad and quite terrifying about this is the shocking amount of women who have, at some point in their lives, been objectified and sexually harassed, whether verbally, as I can attest to from experience, or, worse, physically. In order to address this issue, it is paramount that we stand with these women in solidarity.
The enormity of this often underplayed issue was acknowledged worldwide with the launch of the #MeToo campaign, in which Alyssa Milano, responding to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Needless to say, many people, mostly men, were astonished by how many women they knew who had similar experiences. With all the recent political debate, one would think that this is a matter that most people can agree on. Ideally, the general public could agree that not only is sexual assault and harassment wrong, but that we should also empathize with the victims who have been brave enough to come forward and demand justice from their offenders. Unfortunately, however, there is a shocking number of women who have come forward and been confronted by people who have had the nerve to challenge these victims, asking, “Why didn’t you come forward sooner?” This is not an acceptable response.
Freedom of speech and expression of individual thought aside, it is not within the moral rights of anyone who has never been the object of sexual harassment or assault to shame victims for not coming forward sooner. Without ever having been in the situation that these women were in, there is no room for judgment on how they handled it. Consider the women involved with the Harvey Weinstein scandals. Many were young actresses at the time, either pursuing or in the midst of an acting career in Hollywood; many would not want to do anything that would risk interfering with their careers. Certainly, no one would want to cross the man who was once considered one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. This concept of the offender being in a place of power over the victim is not uncommon, and it is undoubtedly the reason behind many other women across the world not coming forward sooner as well.
Another aspect to consider is the possibility that no one would believe a victim should she accuse the offender outright. This would only be a detriment to her and to her reputation. Many of the lesser known victims of Weinstein admit that they initially felt they could not come forward until women with bigger names, such as Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd, admitted that they were affected too. The public would listen to these women because of their fame, and that power would allow them to come forward when others felt they could not.
Women often think that they are alone in what has happened to them. This is why the #MeToo campaign matters, and this is why there is finally a dialogue about sexual harassment. There is power behind solidarity. The more women who come forward, the more likely it is for thousands of other women to chime in and say “Me too.”
Ultimately, sexual harassment and assault victims need to feel comfortable in coming forward in order to allow other victims a platform of safety where they feel they can do the same. This is important in order to incite change and prevent more people from becoming victims. However, no one can force victims to come forward. No one can say, “You should have come forward sooner,” and no one can make others come forward if they are not ready. We simply must provide a system of support and sympathy. That is how we can stop this issue, not by guilting those with the courage to speak out, but by standing with them in solidarity.