Firing people is NOT enough – to deal with sexual assaults/harassment/intimidation our society and its understandings need a major reset.
Harvey Weinstein opened our eyes to a massive need: millions of victims of sexual assault and harassment have gone unprotected because they feel unable to tell their story on their terms. Victims need to feel that their story will be listened to, taken seriously, and NOT render them the subject of further abuse, blackmail, or revenge. Because of the power differential between perpetrator and victim, it can be years before the victim feels “safe enough” to come forward. And then, due to the time lag, the victim is subjected to questions about credibility and more.
We need a societal change in attitudes – YES. But, such changes happen slowly. The current climate regarding sexual assaults/harassment/intimidation demands a faster change.
The past month has reinforced a few sad truths that we at Empowering Victims have known all too well for the three years we have been working on this issue:
• Many perpetrators have no idea that they are doing something wrong while they are doing it. That realization only occurs later if ever.
• Many victims have only a vague idea that something wrong is being done to them whilst it is occurring. That realization only occurs upon reflection and discussion.
• Because the realization of the “wrong” is delayed, control of the story matters greatly.
• The perpetrators are often in a position of power and use that position to silence the story.
• The greater the delay in telling the story, the greater the injury to the victim, the greater the possibility of injustice to all, and the higher the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.
We believe that the single greatest preventative measure we, as a society, can take is to make it well understood that victim’s stories will be told, that silence cannot be permanently coerced, and that the story belongs to the victim and no one else.
Just as guardrails serve to protect us on mountain roads, story preservation can serve to protect potential victims of sexual assault and harassment. Giving prospective victims an easy and reliable way to control their story reassures everyone. The potential perpetrator will know that silence cannot be certain and must weigh the risk of disclosure – disclosure on the victim’s terms.
The organization I direct, Empowering Victims, has such a tool available as a mobile app. It has been available free in the Apple Store and on Google Play for over 2 years. (It has safeguards built in against abuse and to prevent it being used for blackmail – see our website.) The app should be considered a beta – there is work to be done to better make the app fit the current climate of the past few months. More than 50,000 users have downloaded the app. But, 50,000 is only a drop in the bucket. The users are scattered across North America and prospective perpetrators have no knowledge the app exists.
The app is not what is important – what matters is that we change the basic understanding. Today perpetrators believe that they can intimidate their victims and thus control the story. It is that belief we need to change. Firing people illustrates the consequences once the story is told. Now we need everyone to understand that the story can be preserved and then told on the victim’s terms. The power of a perpetrator to pressure a victim into unwanted behavior will no longer extend to control of the resulting story.
Without widespread adoption and common understanding that everyone has access to such story recording, preservation, and release tools (be it through our app or other tools which may be like it), there can be no preventative effect. WITH widespread knowledge, such tools can be preventative.
The key to a fast change is to make everyone aware that we have entered a new era – victims’ stories will be told and on their terms.
No longer is the story of sexual assaults/harassment/intimidation in the control of the perpetrator.
We need your help to make this a reality. Help us get the word out. #MeToo illustrated the depth of the problem. Recognizing that #VictimsStoriesMatter is a beginning to a new era.