Reading the accounts of the various women who said they were sexually harassed and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, the similarities are striking.
Not just the similarities from one woman who Weinstein reportedly preyed on to the next, but the similarities between the responses of Weinstein’s victims and those who were the targets of other powerful men — like Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton or, yes, Donald Trump.
There was a fear of retribution or retaliation — in many cases, rightly so. There was also a feeling of guilt or shame, a concern for wrecking the perpetrator’s life, a concern about being doubted or questioned or stigmatized, or a sentiment that the incident “wasn’t that bad.”
And it goes beyond men in positions of power, and stretches to women who have been victimized by men generally — those women, for example, who courageously shared their stories of being assaulted on college campuses around the state of Utah.
Every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted. But it’s not just an epidemic of predation, it’s an epidemic of silence. Most are not reported and, on some minor level, I get it because, well, #MeToo.
I was a junior in high school, leaving swim practice one Friday evening, when the guy unloading DJ equipment from his box truck for that night’s fall dance asked me to give him a hand. I climbed in and was lugging a speaker when he cornered me and groped me twice. I shoved him away and he stumbled backward over the equipment and I left.
But I didn’t tell anyone about it, because there would be a stigma, and it’s my word against his, and it “wasn’t that bad.”
Over the years, I regretted staying silent, because this guy clearly had a routine down and I could only think of how many others he had accosted and how many had, like me, kept our mouths shut.
Obviously millions of people, the vast majority women, have been through far worse and most of them have never reported it to anyone.
It’s a point that is being driven home this week by the heartbreaking flood of #MeToo posts on social media, shattering the silence with the voices of the thousands upon thousands who live a shared experience.
It serves as a significant wake-up call, a recognition that nobody who goes through these types of experience should ever be alone or afraid — whether it’s perpetrated by a Hollywood movie mogul or a stranger on a bus or that guy in your chemistry class.
But breaking the silence is only a first step. We need to listen to those who come forward and make sure they are supported, especially in those all-too-common situations where the power imbalance means speaking out could carry consequences.
As individuals, we need to reflect on our own behavior, to lead by example and refuse to look the other way or downplay atrocious behavior. And as a society, we need to make sure our scorn is focused on the perpetrators of these acts and not those bringing them to light.
Cultural change can sometimes move at a glacial pace, and attitudes toward sexual assault have taken far too long to evolve. But we can accelerate the change simply by making sure every victim knows there are people who will listen and care, and that change begins with every one of you — and, well, me, too.