It’s hard to think of a more embarrassing oxymoron than the “open secrets” being exposed with seemingly increased regularity in our country, from Hollywood to the Fox News studios to Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C.
It’s shameful that it often takes victims, by definition in a powerless position, to step forward and say what many of these powerful men’s associates and colleagues already know. It’s also shameful how quickly and easily some dismiss the claims of sexual harassment and abuse, especially when credible witnesses know for certain what has happened and continues to happen.
Sexual harassment is a relatively new concept for us — the term wasn’t coined until 1975 and protections for its victims have faced an uphill climb ever since. But that gives no excuse for us to remain unaware of its pervasiveness, or look the other way as it goes on.
In the wake of the most recent complaints against film producer Harvey Weinstein, celebrity women began sharing their stories. The movement took off, and this week women of all backgrounds joined in, sharing “Me too” on social media to shine a light on the breadth of the problem. It’s a courageous act to admit being a victim, and understanding that it’s not just a Hollywood problem, or a D.C. problem, or a “somewhere else” problem is key.
Also key is making sure we’re not perpetuating the problem by accepting sexual harassment at any level. It certainly begins at home, but it must be addressed in schools, too, where we form the model for how we behave as adults. Imagine the repercussions of dismissing the allegations of a victim who first comes to a trusted adult with a problem. Would she have the courage to do so again? And the same goes for a harasser who is allowed to get away with the conduct. What are the chances he knocks off that behavior after being given a free pass the first time?
If you’re still unsure what to do or if there’s even a problem, we suggest you ask a simple question to a woman in your life who you care about. “Have you ever been sexually harassed or assaulted?” This question is especially important for men to ask and consider. It’s easy to dismiss a problem you’ve never dealt with, but you may be surprised how close to home it actually hits.
The problem will always be with us, but keeping it covered in winks and nods and knowing glances is not acceptable. We must look it straight on, call it what it is and make it clear it’s not welcome in our society.