By Amanda Cardini, Co-editor
The last year was fraught with sexual harassment claims. Perhaps beginning with numerous allegations at Fox News involving top employees like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, there seemed to be a tidal wave of claims in the months following that encompassed Hollywood stars, politicians and news anchors alike. High-profile men cast into the accusatory spotlight include Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Al Franken and even President Donald Trump. Perhaps most notably, former Olympic gymnastics physician, Larry Nassar, was accused by over 150 women and girls. His decades of abuse led to a sentence of 175 years in prison.
At some point in the mix of the charges, the #MeToo movement was born, shedding light on just how many have been affected by sexual harassment and providing empathetic support to all involved. Victims found solace in the knowledge that they are not alone, as the hashtag was used almost a million times within 24 hours. On that same first day, Facebook reported that more than 45% of users in the United States had at least one friend who had used the hashtag.
But just as quickly as social media has served as a platform of comfort and compassion to victims, it has become a place to make victims uneasy. When the President of the United States himself tweets things like the following, it unfortunately has repercussions.
The tweet came on the heels of the allegations against Roy Porter, former White House aide, who resigned after claims surfaced from his ex-wives. As a woman who can honestly say that the majority of the women in my life have experienced some form of sexual harassment, it’s hard to describe how it feels to have someone as high up as the President discount these claims because of politics. This article is tough to write; it’s hard to find the words to explain how harmful words like these are to both men and women who have seen either first- or secondhand how any form of abuse can truly diminish a person. Trump states that allegations are ruining abusers’ lives — but what about the ruined lives of the victims?
Previous generations have said that in their day sexual harassment was “just put up with.” It was less talked about, and standards for what should be tolerated and what constitutes inappropriate behavior were perhaps lower than they are today. Now that these standards are more established and victims are more empowered to speak out, many deny that the claims are valid. Some believe accusers are just looking for the publicity, or even money, that could come out of a trial. And when skepticism is coming from the Oval Office directly, it has a top-down effect on those that have the power to find out whether or not harassment claims are true.
When human lives and mental well-being are at stake, every single sexual harassment claim should always be taken seriously. Our judicial system is supposed to be set up as “innocent until proven guilty.” So if any of these high-profile, high-income perpetrators are innocent, what do they have to lose by cooperating with the process? We know from examples like Brock Turner that even with the most damning evidence many of these men will walk free, or with extremely light sentences, anyway. Turner’s victim’s testimony was chillingly detailed, describing exactly how scarring the experience was for her, and yet somehow he only spent three months in jail.
Other critics say that there’s no honest reason why accusers would wait to bring allegations to light. But psychologists note that there are a number of reasons victims often wait to address situations. Many have to do with shame, the victim telling him or herself that it isn’t a big deal, fear of retaliation, and other emotional or mental processes that can be hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself.
When sexual harassment claims aren’t taken seriously, a dangerous precedent is set. The President’s words reflect a viewpoint that says plainly that a woman’s safety is less important than a man’s status and career. But what about a woman’s career? What about women who have to go to work and face their abuser every single day? No one should fear going home or to work or school; these places are meant to be safe spaces.
A few nights ago a fellow T-bird from another country asked me what I was writing about for Das Tor this week. When I told her my topic she asked me, “Why is sexual harassment so normalized in America?”
I didn’t have a good answer to this. While other countries are not immune to sexual harassment, there has clearly been a shift in America in recent months of more and more victims coming forward. Occurrences like the #MeToo movement and seeing justice served in cases like Larry Nassar’s, have emboldened people to speak up. But just as a culture of intolerance for inappropriate behavior begins to emerge, a culture of denying the claims is brewing as well. It’s our job to make sure sexual harassment is taken seriously. It’s our job to put a stop to the culture of abuse. America, we can do much, much better.