It’s no wonder there’s a cone of silence around sexual harassment and assault. Women who speak up get devoured, discredited and ostracized by a toxic, misogynistic society. They get victimized again, which is why most never come forward.
The predators know this. They feed on this. They thrive on this.
But here’s the thing about #MeToo. We’ve all been in on the secret. We’ve all helped keep the secret. And that has to stop.
Women who have endured harassment or assault — or know co-workers who have — and don’t report it aren’t just victims. They are enablers.
Because our silence has given every groper, grabber, nudist and rapist the opportunity to do it again. And most have.
The list of 80 women who have now accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault is proof that predators don’t strike just once. Every woman who stayed silent out of fear or self-interest did little more than deflect the abuse to the next sister in line, making way for Hurricane Harvey to strike again.
Oh, that’s Hollywood, you want to say?
Well, then let’s look at the stuffy halls of Congress, where lawmakers have set up a reporting system that makes it nearly impossible for women to hold abusers accountable and where even the members themselves aren’t willing to confront their colleagues.
This week, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., told MSNBC’s Katy Tur that she was once molested by former congressman Bob Filner, D-Calif. Filner, DeGette said, “tried to pin me against the door of the elevator and kiss me.”
She didn’t report him. She just made sure she was never in an elevator with him again.
And that allowed Filner to victimize many others - we’ll never know how many - as mayor of San Diego before he was brought down by allegations of sexual misconduct by 19 women.
When DeGette solved her problem by switching elevators, she opened the door for Filner to target a 67-year-old great-grandmother who worked for the city of San Diego, a retired admiral and a nurse who said Filner demanded a date in exchange for helping a Marine who had suffered a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder during service in Iraq.
At least eight veterans who were survivors of sexual assault during their time in the military reported that Filner sexually harassed and groped them while meeting with them as the ranking Democrat of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee looking into sexual assault in the military. How’s that for predatory?
That’s the silent enabler, the most common kind.
And then there’s the more insidious enabler, the active, my-the-emperor’s-clothes-are-splendid enablers such as Yvette Vega, who was the longtime executive producer for television host Charlie Rose.
When one of Rose’s assistants told Vega that Rose repeatedly walked naked in front of her and called her up late at night to describe fantasies of her swimming naked in his pool, Vega brushed her off.
“She would just shrug and just say, ‘That’s just Charlie being Charlie,’ ” Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, the assistant, told The Washington Post.
In a statement to The Post, Vega admitted her role in the abuse.
“I should have stood up for them,” said Vega, 52, who has worked with Rose since the show was created in 1991. “I failed. It is crushing. I deeply regret not helping them.”
Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson expressed the same regrets about Michael Oreskes after he was accused of sexual harassment and resigned from NPR. In the late 1990s, Oreskes ran the Washington bureau of the Times, and Abramson was his deputy. She knew he was making a young news aide uncomfortable by showering her with attention, but said nothing.
“If I had to do it again, I would have told him to knock it off,” said Abramson, co-author of a book about the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill harassment case. “I think I should have raised this with [the Times’ human resources department]. ... Maybe confronting him would have somehow stopped him from doing it to another woman.”
For every Oreskes, Rose and Weinstein, for every Roy Moore, Al Franken, John Conyers Jr. and Bill Clinton, for every Louis C.K., Mark Halperin and Donald Trump ... wait, do we have room for all the names?
Anyhow, for every one of these powerful men who have been accused of sexually harassing women, there is a team of enablers, sometimes men but sometimes women, who allowed the behavior to go unchecked.
Self-preservation, mostly. In many of these cases, sexual misconduct was so ingrained in the workplace, it wasn’t even remarkable. It’s just how a certain breed of entitled men have operated for ages. Of course, you want to kiss me. Of course, you want to watch me masturbate. Of course, you want to see me naked, right?
Women — if they wanted to stay in the game — had to brush it off and move forward.
A fellow journalist recently told me about something she had long brushed off.
She was an intern and one of her bosses knew she wanted to write a book, so he offered to talk to her about it after work. He asked her to his home, where he’d show her some of his work. And she followed, young and naive and engaged in an exciting conversation about writing with a man she believed was her mentor. He was a respected, older leader in the newsroom — what could go wrong?
When they got to his home, he disappeared for a moment and returned to the room naked. She told him she wasn’t interested, and she left, shaken. She wondered whether it was her fault, if she’d misled him. Then she shook it off.
She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t even consider it a case of sexual harassment. Back then? It was business as usual for women in the workplace.
Too often, we have just shaken it off. It wasn’t only a matter of self-interest; staying silent was the only path to survival. It was what everyone did. But now, that time is over.
No more silence, no more uncomfortable laughter, no more excuses. And let’s get past #MeToo. It’s time for a new hashtag that transforms us from victims to vindicators. Report. Speak. Confront. No more enabling. #NotAnymore.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post’s local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.