The #metoo campaign has been my highlight for October, showing the innate need for understanding, the power of solidarity, the human desire to know that somebody understands – that we are not alone. The stories shared went far beyond Hollywood; an astonishing indication of the pain women and men around the world carry in their hearts; inflicted upon them by people closer to them than we can imagine. What was more bewildering though was that some people still found it in themselves to ask why survivors had taken long to share their stories!
The tweet that stood out for me was by Alexis Benveniste who tweeted, “Reminder that if a woman didn’t post #MeToo, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t sexually assaulted or harassed. Survivors don’t owe you their story.”
More often than not, we are quick to trivialize survivors’ stories. Alexis’ tweet got me thinking; what if Alyssa Milano had tweeted, “if you’ve blamed a survivor of sexual harassment or assault write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
The one thing that is worse than sexual assault is trivializing a survivor’s story. ‘Was there a gun to their head? Why were they dressed ‘seductively’? Weren’t they in a relationship? Did they fight back hard enough? Why didn’t they report to police? What took them so long?’
The list is endless. For all the times we have intentionally or unconsciously blamed survivors, called them liars or attention seekers, we have helped the offenders to go scot-free and made it harder for the survivors to seek justice or even heal. We make the survivors blame themselves for inviting sexual assault to themselves and this definitely makes them feel worse than they did after the attack. Offenders, on the other hand, are given the benefit of doubt – there must have been a miscommunication somewhere, maybe they were drunk! We choose to call these sex offenses ‘weakness.’
Indeed, a number of surveys report that the vast majority of people (about 70%) who are sexually assaulted do not report the crime or seek justice. While the justice system has failed in building confidence that sex offenders will be brought to justice, society has played a bigger role in making it hard for survivors to report by being apathetic or outrightly blaming the survivors. Some parents will not report sex offenses against their children to ‘protect them’ from stigmatization and discrimination by society.
Even the most well-intentioned organizations, which have sexual harassment policies and training for their employees, will most probably transfer a junior employee who reports a case of sexual harassment against a supervisor to a less favorable position instead of firing the senior executive. And again society will say, ‘He or she could have just said no!’ Employers will keep sex offenses out of court at all costs, and swear survivors to silence to protect their companies’ reputation.
When the incredibly courageous survivors share their stories, often times reliving the traumatic moment and bringing out memories that they would rather forget, and we trivialize it, we are no better than the sex offenders.