Can you name a well-known man of power or influence who has been accused of sexual assault?
Of course you can.
Whether you live north or south of the Canadian-American land border, the names come quickly to mind: Donald J. Trump, directors Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, comedian Louis C.K., Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenegger, CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi, and Gilbert Rozon who last week stepped down as head of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. And, of course, there are more.
The most recent example comes from accusations against movie producer and ‘star-maker’ Harvey Weinstein including decades-old assertions from actresses alleging sexual harassment, assault, rape, groping, touching, kissing and forced voyeurism.
As Bay Area News Group reporter Martha Ross wrote: “It’s been a monumental week . . . as we’ve witnessed the spectacular downfall of Harvey Weinstein, one of the most influential figures in American entertainment.”
And, of course, there are myriad women all over the world harbouring the names of additional famous and not-so famous men whose actions could conceivably be considered worthy of investigation as sexual assaults.
Why, then, does it take a ‘show-biz’ style incident to ignite women to speak up and for the assaults to be taken seriously and investigated? The answer may lie in a tried and true idiom: there’s safety in numbers. It’s the ‘#Me Too’ methodology.
Reports in 2014 of television’s beloved father figure, Bill Cosby, and his drug facilitated sexual assaults against actresses and models brought forth more accusations from women and their accounts of victimization by other men in show business as well as in politics and the corporate world. At the same time, social media exploded with similar personal accounts and an outpouring of support for such victims. Since then, the news media have played catch up to the voracity of social media reporting and the safe stage it provides. While much is published about the negative effects of social media, such positive outcomes need to be lauded too.
Ross’s reporting continues: “. . . it seems that fury over workplace harassment and abuse has reached a critical mass, the result of a process of growing accountability that began several years ago with . . . Bill Cosby.” Social media, then, with its infinite number of users, provides the safety net for victims of such violence, who have previously kept silent.
Silent until the sound of one loud voice. As SELF magazine’s Nina Bahadur aptly wrote, in most of these examples, one loud voice is what it took to open the floodgates—to give others the feeling of safety and the place to speak out.
Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, told SELF magazine: "When one woman breaks the silence, others are empowered . . . Together those stories paint the full picture and create an environment where victims are more likely to be believed."
And still, one may wonder why--with incidents that occurred years ago, why did the women not speak up earlier?
CBC News, reporting on last week’s allegations against Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Just for Laughs festival, interviewed Quebec actress Patricia Tulasne. She is the latest woman to report being sexually assaulted by Rozon—an event she says happened back in 1994. Tulasne explained she decided to finally speak out after she heard other women come forward with similar experiences.
Those women who come forward feel safe knowing they are not alone as a victim. And those who speak out may experience a feeling of relief. But, the fallout can also be devastating—for the victim as well as for her family and friends who experience guilt for not knowing; for not being able to help.
In an article in The Telegraph, Pete Saunders, founder of the United Kingdom’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) explains his organization has assisted victims as old as 90 who had kept silent for years about assaults. ‘“The average time for a victim to speak out is 22 years after the [incident],” he said.
The US Equal Opportunity Commission is a government agency processing the reports from sexual harassment allegations. According to the Commission, 75 percent of all workplace incidents are never reported.
Beyond the glitter and glitz of Hollywood celebrity life, not to be overlooked is the potential need for professional help from mental health counselors and therapists when any victim breaks their silence and speaks out. SELF’s Nina Bahadur emphasizes that making such public statements can cause the victim to become mentally and emotionally re-traumatized by reliving the experience and/or suffering public interpretations of the event and their own character. “The result,” writes Bahadur, “is that many survivors would rather keep silent.”
If you or someone you know—female or male—needs to speak out about being the victim of abuse—sexual, physical, mental, or otherwise, there are places to turn. In Canada, one place to start is the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime at: https://crcvc.ca/for-victims/. In the United States, contact Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at: https://www.rainn.org/statistics.
Bahadur, N., (October 13, 2017). Do You Believe Me Now? Why Sexual Assault Allegations Come in Waves from SELF. https://www.self.com/story/strength-in-numbers-harvey-weinstein
Dunbar, P., (June 19, 2016). Why abuse victims wait until their twilight years to come forward. The Telegraph.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/why-abuse-victims-wait-until-their-twilight-years-to-come-forwar/
Marandola, S., (October 19, 2017). 'He pushed the door and came into the apartment': Another Quebec actress alleges assault by Gilbert Rozon. CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/patricia-tulasne-assault-allegations-1.4363113
Ross, M., (October 11, 2017). Can Woody Allen and other accused famous men survive Harvey Weinstein’s downfall? Bay Area News Group. http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/11/can-woody-allen-and-other-accused-famous-men-survive-harvey-weinsteins-downfall/