The sisterhood of sexual harassment survivors is exploding, bonding and growing more fierce each day. The diversity of the victims tells us that this problem transcends race, geography, politics and professions. And increasingly, victimized men are finding the courage to say #MeToo.
This is an extraordinary time.
Yet, as survivors speak up, others are wailing “witch hunt” no matter how troubling the allegations.
Case in point: Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama. A former colleague recently told CNN it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated high school girls when he was in his 30s. According to The New Yorker, he was banned from the local mall for trying to pick up girls. But it wasn’t until five women came forward to describe their experiences with Moore — accusing him of unwanted advances and sexual assault — that attention was paid to his alleged penchant for minors.
Victim Beverly Young Nelson recounted Moore’s assault, “I tried fighting him off, while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch.”
In response, Alabama representative Ed Henry took victim-blaming to the next level, saying, “If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years. Someone should prosecute and go after them.”
Alabama’s auditor, Jim Ziegler, went a step further: “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Then came the finger pointing on timing.
“It’s odd to me that this information has just been introduced,” said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. “In all the campaigns Judge Moore has ever run before — and he has run a lot of them, probably a dozen campaigns — it’s very, very odd to me this information has just been introduced.”
Maybe the election did have something to do with it. Perhaps five abused women didn’t want to see a predator go to the U.S. Senate; or thought no one would believe them; or didn’t find their voice until thousands of other women stepped forward. Given the comments by Alabama’s Auditor and Secretary of State, can you really blame them?
It’s so predictable. When I came forward, hurtful insinuations about “timing” were instantly directed at me by many people too, including my former colleagues (lots of them), who had no knowledge of the facts.
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But the worst part of the Moore situation (putting aside the trauma these teenagers experienced) is that sexual molestation has become a partisan issue.
Some voters actually say they’ll vote for Moore anyway, because the other candidate is worse, while political pundits debate whether an alleged child molester is good or bad for midterm results (breaking news alert: it’s bad no matter what).
It’s now official — we’ve hit partisan rock bottom.
Sexual harassment and assault are apolitical. You can’t believe Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, but not Bill O’Reilly’s, just because you like Republicans better than Democrats. Dividing up “good” harassers versus “bad” harassers based on party is, to use a technical term, horseshit.
When my complaint became public 16 months ago, I hoped it would open some eyes and ignite change. But I’d watched plenty of other talented and outspoken women, like Anita Hill, be discredited when their charges went public. And the election of President Trump made me think: America’s just not there yet. I was wrong. Maybe it was because women who had seen me on TV for years felt like they knew me. Maybe it was because of the notoriety of the defendant. Whatever the reason, when I told my story, thousands of women told me theirs in an avalanche of emails, phone calls, direct messages, posts and tweets.
But even though I’d personally endured harassment and assault, the sheer volume of stories was mind-numbing. Not because I ever doubted the victims… but because believing them was so painful. How could so many women be harassed, fired, blacklisted and denied their American Dream? And we as a society had turned a blind eye?
It hurts to hear about abuse. It hurts more to hear about it over and over again. But if you’re not careful, hurt can turn into the kind of gross denial we’re seeing in Alabama.
Not believing victims is a hallmark of America’s harassment culture. The phrase, “it’s a she said/he said situation” is shorthand for this phenomenon. Disbelief is rooted in the subtle sexism we start internalizing in childhood, which tells us girls are more emotional and less intelligent than boys (in fact, studies show 6 year-olds believe men are smarter than women). If girls aren’t intelligent or rational actors, why believe them?
That’s why achieving critical mass is so important. Yes, one survivor speaking up will inspire others to tell their stories. But that’s just step one. Step two? Reach a tipping point where every survivor is believed… whether she has an army of other victims behind her or not. Because as Rose McGowan powerfully stated in response to the suggestion that her rape by Harvey Weinstein was unproven: “I am the proof.”
The Roy Moore situation can make it feel like we’re retreating into the dark ages. But there is a better, nonpartisan and commonsense way forward. Together, we must: call on Congress to prohibit forced arbitration clauses that keep sexual harassment victims silent; demand that companies waive non-disclosure agreements so predators can be named and victims can come forward; and incentivize employers to hire back workers fired or pushed out after making sexual harassment complaints. Lawmakers who decline to support these initiatives should be held accountable on election days.
I’m proud to have ignited this movement, and I plan to take the tidal wave forward in a positive, constructive and lasting way.
“I believe the women,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. I do too, said Mitt Romney. And so do I. Belief is one of the most powerful tools we have in this battle. Belief in ourselves —that we have the strength to weather this and be stronger for it. Belief in the victims — because they have so much to lose and so little to gain unless we have their backs. And finally, belief in our system — because change will come if we keep pushing. And being fierce.
Gretchen Carlson is a former anchor on Fox News and an advocate for workplace equality and the empowerment of women.
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