By Kristen Houser
Chief Public Affairs Officer
This editorial first ran on lancasteronline.com on October 15.
It’s time to take action. Real action. Not just words. Many have called out Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein for his alleged actions publicly. Kudos. But that’s not enough.
It’s time to take true measures in our lives to eliminate the types of sexual harassment and assault that occur every day in our communities — in our workplaces, government offices, schools and churches.
We already know about the numerous documented abuses allegedly perpetrated by Weinstein: how he abused the power of his film studio executive position, how he used that power to manipulate, sexually harass and silence countless young actresses.
His response to the allegations demonstrate his inability or unwillingness to truly be accountable for the damage he has inflicted. Suggesting in a statement that his age and generation were responsible for his misconduct was rubbish, as is the notion that he can regain society’s good graces by founding a scholarship for female directors or attacking the National Rifle Association.
It’s heartening to see the public outrage in response to the handful of celebrities who have blamed his accusers instead of Weinstein himself.
His alleged actions were despicable. He was enabled by the silence of those who knew what was going on, and by the defenses he built to guard against exposure. Our verbal rebukes to that are not enough.
It’s time for action.
The truth is there are thousands of Harvey Weinsteins.
Each of us knows one — if not many. The man who shouts “compliments” at women and girls walking down the street. The friend who makes sexist jokes. The “flirtatious” co-worker. The boss who leverages power to dehumanize his employees, who are without recourse. The teacher who touches students and contacts them outside of school. The student who offers to get booze in return for nude photos from younger students. The person who just doesn’t seem to take no for an answer. The examples are countless.
Our discomfort often makes us laugh off incidents of sexual harassment, even as we cringe on the inside. We’re taught from an early age that sexual harassment is funny, that abuse is a joke, that humiliation is a rite of passage, that sexual exploitation is a part of life.
We’re taught to weigh the bottom line over the well-being of other human beings — that a donation, business relationship or connection to opportunity should not be risked to come to the aid of a friend or colleague, or to speak out for oneself, or to prevent future abuse.
It’s time for us collectively as a society to reject these notions and act differently.
We must know there’s a Harvey Weinstein we’re enabling every time we look the other way. We must know our silence will perpetuate the continued abuse of others.
We must be outraged at the knowledge that today we, as a nation, don’t prioritize the safety and respect of women and girls enough to actually do much about it.
It’s time to turn our outrage into actions.
Today, I ask you to lead by example and make a true difference in your community.
Here are several things you can do today — and every day — to stop the Harvey Weinsteins in your community:
— Be the change we want to see. Make an effort to continually treat people with respect, both in your words and your actions.
— Believe individual victims when they come forward. We can no longer require multiple victims of a single perpetrator to come forward before we are willing to believe the allegations might be true. One person’s experience should be enough to warrant our attention. The well-documented pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in all of our cultural institutions is enough to lend credibility to individual complaints.
— Reject jokes about rape, coercion and exploitation. It may seem inconsequential, but our words lay the foundation for acceptance — for the trivialization of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse to be normalized while its significance is diminished.
— Teach your daughters and sons to see others as humans worthy of dignity and respect. If you’re a boss at your workplace, make sure you talk respectfully about your employees when you’re home. (And don’t think it’s a responsibility to care about these issues only if you have a daughter; you should care if you have a son, too.)
— Talk to your school districts, civic organizations, churches and sports organizations and ask them to invite your local sexual assault center to share information about creating respectful relationships. Parents need this education, too, and our centers can teach them how to raise these issues with kids and other adults.
— Support your local sexual assault center’s work with a donation or by volunteering. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape’s network of rape crisis centers — which include YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Counseling Center — serve all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. They work within our communities to prevent sexual violence and help those who have been assaulted heal.
Today, I ask you: Do more than say Weinstein’s actions are intolerable. Actually make them intolerable in your community, in your workplaces, in your organizations, in your homes. Take action.
Together, we can end sexual violence.
Kristen Houser is the chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.