Sexual harassment culture demands change


Dorrie Gaeng, Editor-in-chief

Harvey Weinstein. Al Franken. Roy Moore. Kevin Spacey. Whether you’re a news junkie or want nothing to do with media, you’ve probably heard these names in circulation. What exactly do these men have in common? While the number of victims and the severity of accusations varies, there is one common denominator: men of power sexually abusing younger women and men.

According to the Sexual Assault Resource Center, sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual act of behavior to which a person has not given consent. Some instances of sexual assault include unwanted touching/groping, exposing yourself to someone and rape. Sexual abuse is when someone in a position of power or authority takes advantage of a person’s trust and respect to involve them in sexual activity, and can involve any of the acts aforementioned.

To list all the public figures who have been accused of sexual abuse – some of whom admitted to these acts and some who did not – would be a laborious task. And that’s exactly the problem.

An aspiring young actress dreams for years of making a career for herself in Hollywood. Finally, the famous director Harvey Weinstein wants to take a chance on her. When invited to his hotel room for a casting meeting, she finds him undressed and asking her to either watch or perform sexual acts. But to disclose this information would mean ending her career in the Weinstein-dominated Hollywood. Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. And it’s been happening for decades.

Sexual abuse knows no boundaries. It crosses all professions and socio-economic groups. Republicans and democrats. News broadcasters and professional athletes. Dishwashers and cab drivers. Even our country’s leaders.

A culture exists where victims are blamed and ostracized. Victims get assaulted and we choose to ask what they were wearing, or if they were drunk. This sexual harassment culture must change. And rehabilitation must come in the way everyday Americans think about, speak about and address sexual abuse claims.

But reform must also come from the top, starting on the Senate floor. The system in place for victims to file sexual harassment claims is despicable. To even file suit in the first place accusers must agree to undergo months of counseling and mediation, during which the victim must sign a non-disclosure agreement. A congressional officer is then appointed to try and settle the case. And these settlement payments do not come out of the perpetrator’s wallet, but instead from a special U.S. Treasury fund. Yes, that means your money taxpayers.

“It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) in a Washington Post article, who has unsuccessfully pushed to overhaul how harassment cases are handled.

How can we demand change in the workplace and the media when our elected officials have yet to remedy their own broken system?

We can’t let this momentum die. We can’t let these brave victim’s stories get swept under the rug. We cannot afford to let this be another Sandy Hook, where tragedy sweeps and nothing changes. This perverse calamity must be a catalyst for change.