In the recent couple of months, several women have come forward with stories they held back for decades. Allegations of sexual assault flooded the front pages of Hollywood with noted producer Harvey Weinstein at the centre. Even women in power—most notably Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have come forward with their own stories of how they were assaulted by Weinstein.
As it were, Weinstein was to become the catalyst for the biggest sexual predator witch hunt that Hollywood has ever seen. Women from all areas of entertainment have now started to come forward with their own stories of being forced by men in positions of power. And it’s not just famous women; women from all walks of life have brought back the #MeToo hashtag to share their own experiences.
Sexual assault has been so prevalent that it is almost expected. The odd comment, the bullying, the passing touches have become the new normal. It is only when things cross an unspoken line that someone decides to speak up.
So, why didn’t all these women speak up before? Why did so many of them hold their silence for years—decades even?
The answer is not so simple. These Harvey Weinstein events have sparked conversations about a lot of things… and sexual assault disclosure is one of them.
Who are the Predators? Who are the Victims?
The recent events have quite clearly showcased that the predators were men in powerful positions; at least more so than the women they chose as their victims. As disturbing as that sounds, perhaps that is the reason why someone like Weinstein was able to get away with this for so long.
In an interview, actors Matt Damon and George Clooney disclosed their intuitions and perceptions of Weinstein. Apparently, it is an open secret that the man is a bully and a womaniser. Which led me to believe that everyone around him knows of his behavior. Damon mentioned that although he did not right out see Weinstein indulging in sexual deviance, he is sorry for the what-if. I.e. what if there was something he could have done in a certain situation to stop an assault.
Essentially, what Hollywood’s biggest exposé has done is start a whole lot of uncomfortable conversations. It has allowed us to question the status quo. Why is it okay for men in more powerful positions to be jerks to women? Why is everyone so inclined to hide away their impunity? Why has Harvey Weinstein gotten away with such disgusting acts while remaining such an influential figure?
And finally, why are people shaming the women for holding their silence for so long?
Why is Disclosure So Difficult?
There are plenty of reasons why someone might not want to disclose their encounter with sexual assault. Some women simply feel like no one would believe them.
Many women who Weinstein assaulted were up and coming actresses who he promised fame and fortune. Hollywood pays more heed to status. The richer, the more famous, the more talked about the better. So these actresses were, essentially, nobodies. And Harvey Weinstein was a hotshot producer. Perhaps these women thought that no one would believe them. And if they spoke out against such a powerful man, their careers would be over.
Here is the learning point for parents: make sure you monitor your child’s correspondence with anyone in more powerful positions than them. This could be teaches, counsellors, football coaches, older students, or even their peers who are in more powerful social positions. If you can’t gauge the kind of relationship they have with the aforementioned people in person, you could monitor your child’s text messages. All this will do is help you find out if your child if someone is taking undue advantage of your child. Listen to your child when they talk about their day at school and believe them.
Which brings me to another reason why disclosure is difficult. Women feel like their stories will be trivialised. Take Weinstein himself. Now if that Damon and Clooney interview tells us anything, Weinstein’s misconduct was an open secret in Hollywood. He was a known bully. He humiliated the people who auditioned for him. This attitude of tormenting, humiliating and objectifying the people he worked with was normalised. Damon mentions how people would rejoice when they “survived a Weinstein audition”.
So if an up and coming actress was to take on a well-connected and rich Hollywood hotshot, she was just as well kissing her career goodbye. Moreover, this woman would become just another unknown name who tried to defame a reputed Hollywood producer. People would automatically assume that she was trying to exploit the man to put her foot through the door and eventually get the headlines she needed to get fame.
It’s vile. It is absolutely disgusting, but so it is.
Then there is the painful fact that most women did not believe that the incident that happened to them was serious enough to be disclosed. Whether it was a passing remark, or a touch or something more inappropriate, women are still debating over how much is too much.
What do Parents Take Away from this?
Keeping these events in mind, here’s what I would tell all the parents who read this blog:
- If you child tells you that someone has hurt them in any way, believe them. Give them a safe environment and ensure that there is no contact, physical or otherwise between your child and their perpetrator. You may use call blockers for this purpose.
- Keep an eye on your child’s text messages and social media interactions. Ensure that they do not speak to or mingle with people who can take advantage of their circumstance.
- Look for signs of distress in your child. Are they being reclusive? Is there any change in their sleeping and eating habits? Are they going to school regularly? Keep watch.
- Are you aware of all the adults in your child’s life? This includes teachers, principals, coaches, instructors and the like.
The women Harvey Weinstein assaulted waited several years to finally speak out. But your children don’t have to. Educate them now about sexual assaults and give them the strength to disclose to those they are closest with. And when they come to speak to you—just listen.