One month ago, a few brave journalists blew the roof off the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The story was well-understood in Hollywood for decades, but never publicly acknowledged: a collection of stories held in quiet shame by dozens of women for dozens of years, finally broken out in the light of day. And in the weeks since Harvey Weinstein’s disgusting ways have come into the light, thousands of others have bravely shared their stories.
The words Me Too, first used by Tarana Burke in 2007 as a name for a movement to help victims of sexual harassment and assault, went viral when Alyssa Milano wrote on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” For days, Facebook and Twitter were a sea of #MeToo. Sometimes just the hashtag, sometimes with a story attached.
Every #metoo was another bolster of support for other women, who had been caught up in the darkness of shame, self-blame and fear - for those victims to perhaps come into the light and unburden their secrets too. Women sharing their own grief created a circle of protection for other women. Each victim’s bravery created space for another’s courage to reach critical mass, and allowed more burdens to be laid down at last. It’s been simultaneously disturbing and beautiful to watch.
As murmurs of “why were they silent for so long?” and “Look how many other people they allowed to be victimized in all those years” fill certain corners of the Internet, we as parents must ask ourselves a different question: Why didn’t this environment of support and belief exist earlier? And how do we change that for our children?
A quick survey of statements from some of the women assaulted and harassed by Harvey Weinsten paints the grim picture: shame, self-blame, and fear that no one would listen or care.
“Nobody would have believed me.” – Cynthia Burr
“I was so ashamed… Why did I open that door? Who opens the door at that time of night?” – Anabella Sciorra
“There hadn’t been a knife. He wasn’t a stranger… I blamed myself. I’d been an idiot to think he and I were just friends.” – Lysette Anthony
“It was so manipulative. You constantly question yourself—am I the one who is the problem?” – Laura Madden
“I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough.”- Lucia Evans
And on. And on. And on. You read of the burden these women carried, or still carry: the burden of guilt, of fault, of blame and shame for the sexual assault that violated them. Because sexual assault was something to be accepted, something to be endured -- and something sure to be blamed on the woman, especially if it involved a man in power.
We know better now. So how do we communicate that to our children?
We know we need talk to our children about molestation. We tell them that no one has the right to touch them in their bathing suit areas. We tell them that if anyone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they should say no! And run away. We teach them the proper names for their genitalia; we teach them that they don’t have to touch anyone or be touched if they don’t want to be. We do all these things. And we beg: Come tell us. Tell an adult. Find a safe adult and tell them.
But we’ve been leaving out a critical piece of this conversation -- something no one discussed with the Stranger Danger kids, or even the Millennials. We need to start telling our kids: you may feel scared. You may feel ashamed. But no one has the right to make you feel these things. We tell them, after #MeToo: if something happens to you, it is not your fault. Never your fault. Never, ever, ever your fault.
If it happens to you, we must tell our daughters, we only ask one thing of you: tell us. Tell us and we swear on everything we love, on our love for you, that we will believe you. And as we believe you, we will help you know, deep-down know, that it is not your fault.
This generation will not grow up to say things like Nina Lynn Spencer tweeted on October 19th: “... 40 years of pain and rage turned upon myself because it HAD to be my fault.”
This will not be their reality. And as we drag the painful reality of sexual assault into the light, today's grim statistics will change.
Today, one in six women are the victims of attempted or completed rape; one in five girls and one in twenty boys are molested, and many suffer under the horrible delusion that the assault is their fault. That’s why they stay quiet, and that’s why the perpetrators’ victimizing is able to continue. We will change this. We will asure our children of rock-solid support systems and rid them of any fear that speaking up about sexual assault will lead to doubt and blame. Instead, it will lead to hugs. To support. To help with naming, shaming, and prosecuting perpetrators.
These girls will not be alone. Together, we can give them two things that so many of us in earlier generations lacked: the courage to speak, and the faith that they will be heard.
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