There’s a lot circulating around the news and social media (do a social media search for #kidlit or Richard Paul Evans if you don’t know what I’m referencing) right now concerning sexual harassment, the perpetrators and their victims.
Most frequently, the perpetrator is someone well-known or well-liked. The victims, for their own mental (and even physical) safety frequently remain anonymous. The public is more inclined to side with the perpetrator–“He would never do something like that!” “I want proof!” “I’m not going to believe an anonymous accusation.” But. But. But.
And then you know what happens when victims go public? They get torn to shreds by the public jury.
*headdesk* *facepalm* *throws hands up in frustration*
And people wonder why victims don’t want to come forward. Why they live in silence with what happened. Why they don’t call police.
It’s because the blame is going to be put on the innocent, no matter the circumstance, the age of the perp vs. the age of the victim, or the amount of power or authority the perp has over the victim.
Victims of sexual harassment and abuse already fear that no one will believe them, and why would we think otherwise? The track record of the public proves this again and again. And the more famous or liked the person is, the worse the personal backlash.
And those doing the harassing and abuse know they can get away with it.
I recently was called to jury duty for a child sexual abuse case (irony, right?). Though I didn’t get selected as a juror, it was clear the man was trying to prove with his church service his innocence. The touching was an accident; a misunderstanding. WHY DO PERPETRATORS ALWAYS TRY TO TELL VICTIMS WE MISUNDERSTOOD THEIR INTENTIONS?
No. If the contact was unwelcome and unwanted it is sexual harassment, which often can turn into sexual abuse. Hugging, kissing, groping, stroking any part of another person’s body without their consent is NOT OKAY.
I plead with everyone…PLEASE believe it when someone trusts you enough to tell you about an incident of sexual harassment or abuse. Please listen. Please support them. Please try to help in any way you can. The victimization was already difficult enough to live through; don’t add to that pain by not believing.
And if your inclination is to jump to the defense of the accused person? STOP. Take a pause. How many times do we know someone good who does something bad? How often do we find out horrid secrets of someone we respected? Don’t jump in to defend someone who has been accused and risk hurting a victim further. It’s so difficult to speak out in the first place, don’t make it worse.
When we don’t believe victims, we are telling them their words don’t matter, their pain doesn’t matter, they don’t matter. It sends a message that they’re overreacting or that it is their fault. It’s confusing. It’s painful. And we feel so alone, so abandoned, and so hopeless.
And other vicitms will further slip into deeper pain, shame, and silence.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, this current discussion of sexual harassment (and sexual abuse in some instances) is triggering. Not because of the subject matter, but because when I see people, some of whom are friends, not being believed, it’s upsetting. Because I know what it’s like to tell and have someone not do anything about it. To dismiss it without further thought. To ignore the violation against me to protect someone or something else. How did that feel? It hurt. It told me I wasn’t important. It told me I didn’t have worth. It told me I didn’t have value. So I kept quiet for over 30 years.
So before you want to rush to defend a perpetrator or discount the testimony of a victim (whether anonymous or public), STOP. Please listen to and believe the victims. We need your support.
And to those of you who have been harassed or abused, I’m here and will listen and support you. If the first person you tell doesn’t believe, find someone who will. Don’t give up. You have value and worth. It’s not your fault.