We should not be shocked by the recent, often deeply courageous, statements and disclosures about sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexualized behavior on social media over the past few weeks that started with the Harvey Weinstein allegations. They confirm what we already knew, that there is a normalization of sexual abuse and harassment in our culture.
The increase in the number of people affected by sexualized behavior coming forward indicates that people feel more confident in coming forward, more confident that they will be believed as well as supported, and more confident that the system will respond appropriately. That is not to say that there is not bravery behind each disclosure.
There is force multiplier at work: the more that people come forward and talk about sexual abuse, the more it’s exposed and consequently, the more that abuse gets reported. As a society, we start to realize that our idealized social norm of “no abuse” is not the reality, that sexual harm is occurring on a daily basis across our communities locally, nationally and internationally; therefore, we need to work harder and smarter in responding to it.
While the most recent conversation about the reality and impact of sexual harm focuses on Hollywood, it reflects what we have seen in the world of sports, social services, religious organizations, politics, and education. The story is all too familiar. We are talking about men (mainly, but not always) in powerful roles taking advantage of individual’s (mainly women, but not always) desires to achieve something (climbing the corporate ladder) by offering them a way to achieve it with caveats (sexual abuse) resulting in the victims being placed in an impossible situation.
The question is how do we respond? Just like Jerry Sandusky, and too many members of the Catholic Church, Harvey Weinstein, as we are learning, is not the only sexual predator in entertainment. There is larger societal issue at play here that taps into the roots of our social norms, relationships, and boundaries.
What is perhaps most disturbing to consider is that many of those for whom there is strong evidence of wrongdoing – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and many others – are or have been respected as public figures.
Our current situation will not change overnight. The brave people standing up are a great start. We need to turn this outpouring into a constructive response that prevents sexual harm and changes the social norms that support it. Violence, including sexual abuse, is just not acceptable. The most practical action one can take is to speak up and speak out. It must be challenged from the bar stool, at the dinner table, in the locker room, in our churches, classrooms, and our communities.