Recent allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and multiple other high-profile men appear to have raised the topic of sexual harassment to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Considering up to 85 percent of women report they have experienced some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is fair to say that this subject is on most women’s minds on a daily basis. The immense amount of reports from numerous women revealing their long, hidden abuse and torment raises many questions.
One question may be, well, why now? Why would a woman wait sometimes for decades to come forward against her sexual predator? But especially in cases such as Weinstein, when we hear about the overwhelming accounts of sexual aggression, it is not hard to believe that for every woman who painfully decides to go public with her story, there must be a dozen more who sit silent, who may never speak up.
So this raises the question: Why can some women speak out about their experiences while others cannot, and what factors come into play when making this decision?
The first step for a woman when deciding to speak out about sexual harassment she has endured is to actually realize and be able to label the behavior as harassment. This might sound simple, but when you consider our society, which still openly promotes the sexual objectification of women through the media and now even some in our government, it is not hard to see how a woman may feel the harassment is normal.
She may question herself, feeling as if she is crazy, wrong, or that she is the only one who has a problem with it, leading to increasing feelings of isolation. When sexually attacked, a person experiences a loss of power and identity and women in the work force are already fighting for equal power and representation in leadership, so it becomes easier to understand why it may seem like a better choice to not report harassment to your boss, who is likely a man and possibly even the perpetrator.
Not to mention the retaliation and re-victimization that often occurs for women who do report.
Unfortunately, when deciding if they should speak out, women must weigh the personal pros and cons of reporting a sexual crime. The pros being that if she reports the abuse may stop, the long healing process may begin and maybe she receives financial compensation through retribution — although I feel this is the least likely incentive for women to report, considering court proceedings are stressful, time-consuming and can be costly.
Not every woman is a celebrity, and a single mother on one income is unlikely going to choose attorney fees over supporting her children.
With that being said, the cons to reporting can include loss of employment, fear of shame and embarrassment when family hear the details of the harassment, and the stigma of being labeled a sexual assault victim.
On top of all this, women have the fear that they are somehow to blame or that their consensual sexual history may come into question as we have seen happen numerous times in past sexual assault cases.
Despite all the odds, women still speak out, and, regardless of how a woman comes to this decision, it takes courage and a sense of advocacy for themselves and others. However, what may be one of the biggest determining factors for women who speak out is their sense of support, whether that is support from their family, a therapist, co-workers or even legislation that protects them.
After hearing the many stories from celebrity actresses, it becomes clear that these accounts were not rare, they were not isolated events, they were part of a culture that in fact reinforced the behavior of abuse through the inaction of spectators and lack of support for the women.
However, as more and more women came forward, the sense of isolation was lifted and a support system arose giving even more women the courage to come forward. Recent movements supporting women’s rights, such as the Women’s March, help give women a feeling of community support and a sense someone has their back.
The recent social media campaign #MeToo helped grow a global support network specifically for sexual assault survivors, or we could just say women.
It would not be a surprise if by continuing the momentum in support of survivors, more women feel empowered to come forward, which sometimes is the first step on the journey to heal.