Reports and allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment have dominated the news in the last two weeks. It seems impossible to read the current news without hearing a new allegation or confession. As these stories continue to break out, I wonder what can we do to prevent this in the future? How can we create an environment where everyone is respected?
First, it’s important that we understand what these terms mean. RAINN defines sexual violence as “an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse." According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment can be defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment." Being informed of these definitions will make the issue easier to deal with.
When we talk about change, the best place to start is with ourselves. Have you ever done or said anything inappropriate? I also think that each of us should ask ourselves how we would deal with sexual violence and harassment. If you were to witness sexual violence or harassment, would you defend the victim(s) or would you remain silent? If you can do something, then you should. Oftentimes, these situations continue to go on because bystanders are willing to overlook this behavior. Additionally, there are systems of hierarchy and wealth that can impact how a situation is handled.
Although the reports we see in the news tend to be focused on victims who are wealthy and famous, it’s crucial to realize this is an issue for people of all genders, races, classes, and abilities. This isn’t an issue that is limited to the entertainment industry; this is a global issue. We can, and should, set a new standard as we move forward. Sexual violence and harassment should never be condoned. We have the power to make that a reality, but for this to work, it must be a collective effort that includes all people.