Special Connections: Harassment, Assault, and Rape Survival in the #MeToo Era

The torrential downpour of sexual harassment, assault, and rape allegations against Hollywood producer and rainmaker Harvey Weinstein, Roy Price of Amazon Studios, former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, film director James Toback, controversial photographer Terry Richardson, and Broadway’s current Phantom of the Opera James Barbour, continue. This handful of predators are experiencing shame and being judged for their behavior. Police departments are opening investigations. Legislatures are taking up investigations. Perpetrators are seemingly on notice.

It is my fervent hope this movement inspires more than ‘discussions’ regarding the statute of limitations surrounding rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.

More than 500,000 survivors of the full spectrum of sexualized harassment and violence have declared #MeToo on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It is important to understand this is the second wave of Me Too. Tarana Burke founded the movement several years ago - to bring attention the lack of services for women of color who experience sexualized violence.

According to RAINN, 94% of women who have been sexually assaulted or raped experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. There are more than 17,000,000 women or girls that have reported sexual assault or rape since 1998 in the United States alone.

The disclosures by survivors are being met with predictable responses that include condemnation, concerns about a witch hunt coupled with the #NotAllMen hashtag, and a full retinue of behavior-policing speech directed at survivors and allies alike. Mothers of sons accused of rape on campus even have support groups - and they engage in victim-blaming rather than face reality that perhaps, just perhaps, they raised monsters.

The concept that false allegations are the real concern are absurd and its proponents must be held accountable for their reckless disregard for the more than 17 million reports of sexual harassment, assault, and rape mentioned above.

Silence breeds complicity. Shaming survivors, threatening them, intimidating them with the promise of something worse than what they’ve already experienced is effective. Any victim of sexual harassment can tell you that it isn’t just the grabbing or groping - it is the fear created by disrupting the power dynamic. The fear of fighting back in the moment, the fear of retribution, the fear of shame and stigma and rejection.

When you have faced evil - you know it has an appetite. An appetite and thirst that requires the pain and suffering of others to feel satisfied. It craves seeing the fear it creates in another human being. Yesterday’s snide comment is today’s inappropriate groping and tomorrow’s forcible rape. Sexualized harassment creates fear, and the perpetrator lets you know that if you are silent - if you’re a good girl or boy - maybe, just maybe, you will escape with your life. Or your job. Or escape rape.

Predators have enablers. They are the chorus of voices casting doubt, creating stigma. “If only s/he had spoken out earlier, we would have believed her.”

Survivors know this. We live it. And yes - ME TOO. From childhood to adulthood, I’ve heard it all. But...I have the power now. The thing that perpetrators underestimate is the resilience that becomes a thick skin that becomes backbone and evolves into an activist and expert. Their appetite for pain and suffering reveals a malevolence inherent in their character. It defines them - not their victims.

Perpetrators and their enablers do not get the last say. The six young men who gang raped me don’t get the last word. Neither does the Republican consultant who called me “Slopes” instead of Elizabeth, at that black tie dinner in 2001. Nor does the prominent military leader who cornered me in an elevator at a different black tie ball in 1993.

Good men, or women, do not act or think about the domination and control of another person. They just don’t. Every being on this planet has a special connection to power and privilege. Your geography, nor your gender, should determine your access to justice.

The men who were and are exceptional colleagues and friends are the ones I rely on. They inspire me, just as much as the strong, ethical women who helped forge the strength I possess today.

There is profound good in the world. There are champions and brothers-in-arms who wreak all the right havoc. There are women fighting misogyny in academia and politics and church groups that we’ll never meet, or have a chance to be inspired by. We will never know their names but they exist in every corner of every society.

Survivors of rape have obligations to ourselves - to heal. To begin again. To rebuild. And when we do, we have an obligation to take in the goodness of others and stand for justice. Not every perpetrator will see the inside of a courtroom. Not every boss or coworker will be fired. But we can create lessons and seek enforcement for better behavior in the workplace and at football games and in political rallies and in every aspect of our lives and our communities.

Rape left an indelible mark inside my soul - PTSD is a constant companion. But there is love out there. There is goodness. There is justice, and that is the power that serves us all.

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