by: Minda Harts, Founder, The Memo
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, specifically in light of the recent sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Many men and women have been coming forward to tell their stories via the viral hashtag #WHYIDIDNTREPORT. Unfortunately, I know many women and men have dealt with unwanted advances at some point in their lives. Regardless of when someone chooses to report abuse that has happened to them (right away, or years later), every person should be respected and given the liberty to speak their truth in a time frame that is suitable to their needs. Their decision is not up for public consumption. The stigma around “coming forward” is not as easy as some might think. It’s not so simple, to call 911 on someone that you know and love, or to speak up and have no one believe you.
What are we doing to usher in a better environment for women to come forward without the stigma attached to abuse? I watched a CNN clip with a couch full of women attacking Dr. Ford for coming forward decades later, and chopping it up to “teenage boys will be teenage boys.” What kind of teenage boys are you raising, ma’am? The fact that these women are someones’ mother, aunt, or grandmother discussing abuse in this way is appalling. This is not how we demonstrate allyship when marginalized groups need us the most.
Coming forward is the hardest first step; one that is brave and demonizing all at the same time! Sexual harassment in the workplace has found a way to single out the victim and protect the accused. We have seen this depicted on and off screen. Not only have you been harassed, but now you might have to sacrifice everything you’ve worked hard for because the stigma will chase you down like a train. Oddly enough, I found that sweeping sexual harassment under the rug has been most prevalent in the workplace. There is so much sexual harassment happening in the workplace that it’s often filed as “they don’t mean any harm” instead of documenting it as the sexual harassment that it is.
As rape culture permeates our lives and workplaces across the country, no man or woman should be worried if today is the day their colleague tries to assault them or not.
We should all work to create a better environment when situations like these arise. Those who choose to come forward shouldn’t feel bad about going to their Human Resources office and reporting a problem. None of us should be comfortable knowing that one of our colleagues might be going through this situation and they feel as though they have no place to turn. Sometimes we can be complicit and throw everyone in this one size fits all box of meaning no harm, just because that wasn’t our experience. Creating a workplace culture of silence is harmful.
My hope is that your story or another story will inspire others to speak up and as a culture, we stop giving people a pass to misbehave, solely based on someone “meaning well.” We can no longer give out harassment badges of honor just because it doesn’t end in rape. If you have been in this position and didn't feel supported, know that we see you, we believe you, and we support you.
Please know that as a community we are here to support you at The Memo. On Monday, September 24, at 7 pm ET, in place of our usual member coaching call, we will host an open conference call to discuss how we can be better advocates in order to dismantle this stigma as it pertains to women of color at work. It’s free, join us! Dial in number (515) 739-1298, and use conference code 333869 when prompted.