Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Terms of Harassment

Harvey Weinstein, famed Hollywood producer, has been a hot button topic of U.S. media coverage recently thanks to more than 40 sexual harassment and rape allegations against him by multiple Hollywood and non-Hollywood actresses (Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and more). 

If you never knew of Harvey directly, you probably knew several of the films he produced -- My Week with Marilyn, Gangs of New York, Shakespeare in Love, Nine, etc

This recent story got me thinking about how varied our perceptions can be about what is rightfully classified as "sexual harassment" or "rape" and how we respond as a society. Considering last Wednesday, October 11 was International Day of the Girl Child, it feels appropriate to be discussing this now. For organizational purposes, this post is divided into sections: Definitions, Problems, and Solutions

Sexual Harassment
"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when either: the conduct is made as a term or condition of an individuals education, employment, living environment, or participation in a University community."

"Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will (usually of a female) or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent."

In some situations, it's easy to identify that one of the above has taken place. When a person makes a sexual pass at you and you respond with an immediate exclamation of "NO" or try to push the person aggressively off or attempt to walk (or run) away yet they inhibit you from leaving by holding you forcibly against your will, pinning you down, and touching your body parts / having non-consensual sex with you -- it's clearly in line with sexual harrassment and/or rape. 

Blurred Lines 
In some situations, miscommunication plays a dangerous role. When a person makes an overt sexual gesture towards you and you respond with laughter, flirtation, no verbal request for it to stop, and no physical attempt to move the person away or leave, that often times sends the message that you find the action acceptable and would like it to continue, whether that is actually the case or not

Power Positions
There are many instances when women don't speak out about sexual assault or rape because they feel powerless. As was the case with most of Harvey's alleged victims, the assault happened when they were young, upcoming actresses looking to make their mark and Harvey Weinstein was one of those guys that could literally "make or break" their careers -- at least they believed so. They did not feel they could afford to fight Harvey or report him to the authorities because in their world, he was a "powerful don" who nobody crossed. This is not limited to Hollywood. On a daily basis, many women find themselves in positions where they feel powerless and subject to the actions or abuse of "powerful dons". 

Culture of Silence 
There is no doubt that people in the Hollywood circle knew of Harvey's exploits -- some of the allegations go as far back as two decades ago. I believe the same is the case for other well-known individuals that have been accused severally of assault and rape charges; Bill O'Reilly, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Roger Ailes, etc. There is a "culture of silence and cover up" that tends to happen around prominent assaulters (especially in cases like those of the men I mentioned above) when they're deemed to be brilliant and creative minds so people choose to focus rather on the great work they put out into the world and not the great devastation, pain, and torment they equally unleash on women (and sometimes men) in the world. Again, not limited to Hollywood -- happens in many environments. 

If you don't want something sexual to happen between you and another person, you have the right to say "no" -- either verbally or with your actions. It won't always be the easiest thing to do and there can be undesired consequences that come as a result of that, however it is 100% your right to say "no". If you choose to exercise that right, you can always find peace and integrity in your courageous act to do so, regardless of the consequences or what anyone has to say. 

When someone (female or male) has enough courage to speak out about an assault or rape, LISTEN to the person. Don't take a mocking or dismissive stance -- don't violate the person all over again by disregarding or shaming them (which sadly women sometimes do to other women). Regardless of if you feel they dressed inappropriately or gave the wrong signals or put themselves in a precarious position, start with empathy first and then caution second. Don't forget, it could happen to anyone -- me, you, a sister, a brother, a daughter, a son, and/or a friend. 

You might not feel that you are powerful enough to greatly help a person that has been assaulted or raped however there are more ways than one to help; from being a safe, listening ear to recommending a sexual assault / rape counselor to sharing your own story of victimization with the person, you can help. Actress Alyssa Milano started a new hashtag movement on social media a few days ago called #METOO and has asked all her social media followers that have ever been sexually assaulted to also post the hashtag on their accounts to show how widespread the state of sexual assault is and provide a community of support for women (and men) that have gone through this -- that's one way to help. 

Since I'm running the risk of making this an unreasonably long post, I'll stop here. I haven't covered all aspects of the Problems or the Solutions however, I wanted to point out at least some of them -- if you have any others to mention, let me know in the comments section below and we can continue the conversation. 

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