Sexual harassment has, for the longest time, been a hushed incident by both perpetrators and victims. Victims have often been forced to stay quiet in fear of humiliation or threats of ruination.
Keeping quiet and pretending it never happened has become the norm.
We have allowed the breeding of villains amongst us, often in the guise of mentors, bosses, friends and family. This is not to say that everybody has become a sexual predator, but it has made some women, and even men, apprehensive of individuals who have leverage over them, especially in the workplace.
Since nobody discusses it, we spent decades assuming the problem to be rare, almost negligible.
However, recently multiple highly publicized cases have shown how deep-rooted and widespread this problem is.
An article published in The New York Times on Oct. 5 brought to light the sexual harassments administered by a prominent Hollywood figure and co-founder of Miramax cinemas, Harvey Weinstein.
The victims were not just common women in the workplace. They were famous actresses like Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
In every reported case, women were lured into private rooms with Weinstein, where he demanded or forced sexual favors from them. This had been happening for more than two decades.
The fact that one person got away with sexual transgressions for decades without anybody speaking up shows how ignorant we have become.
People trying to report cases of sexual abuse are usually treated with an air of disbelief and discouragement. Victim shaming and fear of retaliation (from transgressors and even the media) have gone to such an extent that even genuine cases sound exaggerated.
Another deep-rooted misconception is that the victims are “asking for it.” In response to accusations toward Harvey Weinstein, designer Donna Karan said, “How do we present ourselves as women? … Are we asking for it?”
This further emphasizes the need for educating the young adult population about consent. It is not enough to teach young girls to protect themselves.
It is necessary to teach young boys and girls to respect each others’ boundaries and to not exploit one’s power for the price of someone else’s dignity. Furthermore, it is essential that we recognize the victims, both male and female, and give them the support they need.
Unbiased investigation procedures can help protect the genuine victims as well as the wrongfully accused.
We cannot let the fear of the “powerful” culprit keep us from reporting these issues. We cannot turn a blind eye.