With all of the recent reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the media lately, you almost can’t read the news without hearing about yet another celebrity, politician, or public figure committing these acts of violence and abuse.
So far, there’s been Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Senator Al Franken, Danny Masterson, Russel Simmons, and Dustin Hoffman, to name just a few accused of sexual misconduct in the past few months.
Time Magazine recently named Person of the Year to the “Silence Breakers”, the victims and survivors of these acts who have come forward. This year, the #MeToo movement created a ripple effect of disclosures and shared experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This movement highlights the fact that these acts of abuse and violence are not uncommon or few and far in between.
Much of the conversation around #MeToo and the reports of sexual misconduct coming out revolve around the comparison between sexual harassment behaviors and sexual assault. Many people feel as though these two behaviors should not be lumped together, and that sexual harassment is not as big of a deal as sexual assault. This belief, however, is a part of the problem.
Sexual harassment is violating and harmful all on its own. If we ignore it, though, it can and often does escalate into sexual violence. For example: someone who catcalls others probably believes those people should be treated like objects, but are never told that this is harmful since it is so common and normalized. Now they go from catcalling to grabbing or groping, yet no one tells them this is harmful because it “happens all the time”. So, next time, they take it a step further and assault someone because they feel entitled since they view these people as objects in the first place.
I’m not saying that everyone who catcalls is going to sexually assault others, of course. This is also not to say that in the eyes of the law we should view lewd comments and rape as the same crime. Regardless of the severity of the accusations these celebrities and public figures face, all of these actions are harmful. Some may be viewed as more harmful than others, but they are all still harmful nonetheless.
However, there is a connection between sexual harassment and sexual assault. Like with Harvey Weinstein, for example. If people took sexual harassment as seriously as sexual assault when he was initially harassing many of the women that came forward, then maybe those survivors who were victimized by him could have been helped long before his actions escalated to sexual violence. We need to hold individuals accountable from the moment we see behaviors that objectify, demean, or otherwise oppress a group of people. Our words and our beliefs often become our attitudes and actions.
More reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault do not necessarily mean it’s happening any more than it was previously. It means that victims feel safer reporting or talking about it. It also means there is an increased awareness on what these issues really look like. A more fine-tuned definition of these behaviors help victims and survivors actually identify what happened to them and holds the space for them to come forward.
ALL survivors deserve to be heard, believed, and supported.