Who is the next icon of entertainment, politics or journalism who will be exposed as a sexual predator? Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Sen. Al Franken and Judge Roy Moore. For some complex and possibly inexplicable reason, the accusations involving Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates and started the culture down the road of sexual abuse exposition.
Major accusations, and a lawsuit brought by Gretchen Carlson against Roger Ailes, followed by the uncovering of several incidents of sexual harassment involving Bill O’ Reilly, preceded the Harvey Weinstein accusations and the tornado that has followed. Can the opening of the floodgate be as simple as Alyssa Milano tweeting #metoo? Was that enough to provide the impetus and courage victims needed to come forward and name their abusers?
This whole period has everyone rethinking what is normal and creating a storm of questions. Who do we really know? Who can we trust? Where is the line? How will it be safe to have normal relationships? What are the rules? What are the signals and how do we read them? Who are the victims of sexual harassment or abuse? How do we untangle the complicated web when someone we admire, and who has done good things in the world, is suddenly a sexual deviant? And who is a sexual deviant and who is just a person who had a made a serious social miscue? Are all actions equal? Do they all require the “Death Sentence”?
There are some that would argue that this abusive culture is heightened and encouraged by the Trump Affect. The Trump Affect can be blamed for a lot of what is currently happening in our culture. Certainly, the increase in open racism and homophobia can be associated with the overall tone emanating from the White House. And despite the fact that Donald Trump has been accused by several women of harassment and abuse, he is certainly not alone as a politician or the first president to be accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Bill Clinton preceded Donald Trump by a generation with regard to his mistreatment of women. And many would argue that although the Monica Lewinsky affair might seem on the surface to be a consensual coupling, the powerful position held by the President contributed to decisions made by Lewinsky to allow herself to be involved in the first place.
Clearly sexual harassment and abuse are not a function of being liberal or conservative, or a Republican or a Democrat. They are also not a function of economics. In fact, in all of the discussions involving entertainment stars and moguls, powerful politicians and captains of industry, what seems to go unmentioned is that sexual harassment and abuse has been occurring for as long as humans have existed and power imbalances have been a reality.
The bulk of individuals who have suffered the horror and indignity of abuse are basically invisible. Even if they could come forward, most people in their communities, maybe even in their families, would either find a reason not to believe them or put pressure on them to be quiet. These people do not have the power of popular media to defend them standing at the ready to tell, and in some cases, exploit their story. They do not have a voice.
As painful and confusing as it is to daily have someone you admire exposed as a fraud and negate all of the good that has been done, or joy that has been provided, the conversation must continue to broaden. It is necessary to take down powerful men, and women, who abuse their position to prey on those less powerful. It is also necessary for those who come forward and receive support to reach back and find a way to help those with less of a platform to expose daily abuse by regular people.
It is not just about women in the workforce. That is just the tip of the iceberg. How can we have more of an impact in everyday homes to protect women and children from daily abuse? What kind of structures are needed to provide a safe and supportive place for those who face abuse to come forward and speak about it. In too many families and communities there is an ethos of silence. No matter the circumstances, you do not expose your family member or neighbor to the police or social agencies.
In too many cases the sexual, physical and emotional abuse continues unchecked traumatizing millions of women and especially children. That trauma has a devastating effect on everyone especially the children. Dramatic negative effects impact their physical and mental health and make learning almost impossible. The factor that most severely impacts the ability of children to make educational progress, especially children of color and those living in poverty, is the unrecognized and unaddressed trauma in their lives.
We should not minimize the experience of an aspiring actress who is coerced or forced into damaging experience with a producer who feels a need to wield his power through his penis or a congressional aide who cannot do her job, or further her career, without navigating the sexual advances of her boss. These are emotionally traumatizing events. The difference is that these individuals, most of whom are educated adults with available resources, have a fighting chance to work through the system and at least move on even if they do not get direct justice.
Women and children of meager means cannot move on without structures that allow them to do so. There are too many other factors standing in the way of a reasonable resolution or possibly any resolution.
Sexual harassment and abuse is an epidemic. It has been an epidemic as long as humans have walked upright and maybe before. It did not start with Harvey Weinstein. It will not end with Harvey Weinstein. It is pervasive and affects all ages, genders, and economic levels. The fact that the conversation is afoot is a good start. Until that conversation includes people at all levels, and provides effective and consistent answers for all, not just women in the workplace, the conversation will be incomplete.