We Need to Ask Ourselves Why Women Don’t Speak Up about Sexual Assault

By now, you might have heard about the sexual assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein. In a shocking report, The New York Times revealed that Weinstein has been sexually abusing and raping women for the past 30 years. A few days after the report was published, actors Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow came forward and revealed that they had been sexually assaulted by Weinstein when they were young 20-year-olds trying to make it in Hollywood.

Since then, a lot of people have asked why these women didn’t come forward years ago. If they had spoken up earlier, several other women could have been saved from being abused by Weinstein. In any world, these questions would have been valid. But, our current situation is far from ideal. We’re still very much, and sadly so, living in a male-dominated society where powerful men get away with heinous crimes such as rape and sexual assault.

The New York Times tweeted a reader’s response on why women like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t speak up earlier.

It is disheartening to see so many comments already blaming women for not "speaking up." Please count yourself lucky that you've never had your career on the line based on whether or not you sleep with your boss. It has nothing to do with fame and riches; this happens to women making minimum wage in retail as well as women who fought through it to become CEOs.
The psychology behind this kind of thing is not that complex, so please spare a moment to consider: Not only are these women made to feel humiliated and embarrassed, but in some cases if they had come forward, they not only would never work again, they also would be seen as whiners and "too sensitive." Both Jolie and Paltrow fended him off. Imagine if they made a big stink about it. They would have been ripped apart in the media! "Oh for goodness' sake, a dirty old man came on to you. You rejected him and moved on, why the fuss?"
But, of course, now we insist on blaming them for "perpetuating" Weinstein's behavior. Please. The amount of cognitive dissonance it must take to blame women for their own persecution is astounding. Note that the comments have not centered around Brad Pitt's not saying anything, though he knew about it with not one but TWO romantic partners. 
It is not the women's job to monitor men's behavior. We are doing the best we can with what we have to survive in a world that depends on our subjugation.

Evan Rachel Wood, a Hollywood actor who has worked in films like Thirteen, Whatever Works, and The Ides of March, released a video explaining why women don’t speak up about the men who have assaulted them. In the past, the actor had been abused and raped by powerful men whose names she has chosen not to reveal.

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Here’s an excerpt from her statement:

They were very powerful, very rich, very entitled, very narcissistic white men. And I haven’t named my abusers for a number of reasons. One. I’m one person against some very powerful people. Two. Money and time and re-traumatizing yourself. To go after the person that assaulted you takes quite a toll. It is a terrifying thing to have to go through, mainly because you are at risk of not being believed, your career being hurt, being drained of your finances — because it costs a lot of money to file a lawsuit and go to court with somebody. Especially if all you have is your word against theirs and especially if these are very powerful people.

You can watch the full video here:

Now, here’s thing: Speaking about sexual assault, harassment, or rape isn’t easy. It’s very, very tough.

In my first job, one of my male senior managers would approach his juniors from behind while they were working at their desk. He would lean over and bring his face close to ours, apparently so he could see what we were writing on our computer screens. Every time this happened, I’d slowly move my chair away because I felt extremely uncomfortable. I’d cringe whenever I had to work with him because I knew he had zero respect for anyone’s private space.

But, I didn’t speak up.

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It was my first job and I had put up a big fight at home to come work for this company. I was scared of losing my job if I complained about his behaviour. Why would someone believe me over a man who’s bringing in revenue and basically running the show? Even if I didn’t lose my job, he’d perhaps give me a lot of flak for speaking against him.

It was only much later that I realised I have the right to report any kind of harassment at the workplace. One of my female managers told us that anytime we felt harassed, we should speak up without fearing the consequences. You should know that if you perceive another person's act as harassment, it is harassment and you have the right to bring it up.

For centuries, men have dominated women. At certain workplaces, especially in showbiz, there’s a lot of power play happening. Men try to intimidate women by either ‘showing them their place’ or using their body language to show them who's the boss. When it comes to powerful men like Weinstein, it takes immense courage to point fingers at him especially when your entire career depends on him and his bro club.

Apart from this, let’s also not fool ourselves into thinking that victims are encouraged to speak up or provided with a safe space. We indulge in a lot of victim shaming, like Donna Karan did on the red carpet at the Cine Fashion Film Awards at Los Angeles.

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Here’s an excerpt:

You can watch her blabber here:

Indians aren’t alien to this concept. Every time a woman is raped or molested, there’ll be scores of people who’ll ask ridiculous questions like:

“Itni raat ko bahar kya kar rahi thi?”

“Aise kapde pehenke office jaogi toh yehi hoga.”

“Arrey woh toh bahut achha hai yaar, woh aisa kar hi nahi sakta.”

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It’s sad that women are shamed, called whiny bitches, or asked why they didn’t fight back hard or hard enough whenever they come forward with a sexual assault allegation. What we should be doing, instead, is:

Let’s not ask women, “why now,” when they talk about how they were sexually assaulted in the past. Let’s ask ourselves how we failed them.

Feature Image Source: 1





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