NEW YORK — International Women’s Day was celebrated last Friday. It has changed since I marched in 1971 and helped take over a Harvard building. At that time, we did not have a #MeToo movement. Now, even in the UK, the Countess of Wessex has devoted a lot of attention to abuse and harassment. In fact, she is sponsoring a conference titled “Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative.” It takes place in November 2019 and will focus on women in conflict zones.
Sexual harassment has been around for eons. It is only getting better publicity and a “No more!” from the #MeToo movement.
This week we also saw the Michael Jackson movie and the allegations that he preyed on younger boys. These were boys that said nothing when it took place and are now saying they were abused.
Also, this week Senator McSally (R-Ariz.) talked about sexual abuse when she was in the Air Force. I sent her comments to someone who did not like her from the Air Force; and since they had also been abused by higher-ups, they said they believed her.
Sexual abuse happened all the time in my day when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. It was expected, just like catcalls were expected. Catcalls were just par for the course. The catcalls which would not be tolerated in today’s world were all around us. We all knew they were happening and we put up with them. No more!
No one knows what causes someone to abuse another person. Is it their upbringing? Is it their hormones? A short look on Google Scholar shows several papers written about sexual assault. Included is a paper from the 1980s entitled “Sexual assault among adolescents” in which interviews were done with victims and male offenders. There is another paper on PTSD from people who had undergone sexual assault. Yet another paper discusses sexual assault and mental disorders and those who had been assaulted when they were younger.
The sexual assault problem is nothing new, and fortunately is getting more attention now. It happens from generation to generation. Now, we are being made aware of these kinds of assaults; and because of awareness, it has a chance to end. People are being encouraged to report assaults if they take place in the home, someone else’s home, at work or in the military. That is a good thing and a welcome change.
In previous days, if you had money to buy someone off, you could get away with assaulting someone. People will keep silent if money might be involved and will help their family. Now, it does not matter if you are loaded with money, people are going to talk and they are going to report you.
The same goes for what is taking place in our military. Women were subjected to assault and did not talk about it. Certainly, Senator McSally did not talk about it to the higher-ups at the time. Her career and her livelihood could have been endangered.
“I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as the military grappled with the scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor,” she said this week, choking up as she detailed what had happened to her. “I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service over my despair. Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
Historically, we know soldiers often didn’t get paid and may have thought it was their right to abuse women. But our armed forces do get paid, and they can’t use that as an excuse they are entitled to take what they want (women).
Payment or not, women are not the ones that should be taken advantage of. We don’t know why women are abused or raped, but it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that any kind of harassment in or out of the workplace gets reported. It does not matter if someone later says it was consensual; women deserve to be treated fairly and to be able to report what has happened to them.