Best of 2017: Memories of assault last a lifetime

 

As a teenager, I encountered — either as victim or witness — numerous incidents of male-on-female sexual harassment and assault. What was almost as disturbing as the incidents themselves was what happened afterwards.

Harvey WeinsteinExcuses were made. He was drunk. She was drunk. It was a miscommunication. They were both confused. He didn't realise she didn't want to.

The perpetrators faced few if any consequences. They continued to be treated the same as before — invited to social events, for example, that at times included their victims as well. As time passed there seemed to be an expectation that their victims, or witnesses to the events, would be understanding, and not 'hold a grudge'.

The message I received from these situations is that men shouldn't have to take full responsibility for the things they do to women, if it's of a sexual nature.

Some of the excuses provided for sexual offences committed by men against women would never hold weight when applied to other illegal acts. We would not say, 'If that old man hadn't made it so easy for someone to abuse him, it would never have happened.' Nor would we provide ready-made excuses for an arsonist by suggesting they were confused, drunk or had just been fired from their job.

Yet it seems when it comes to offences of a sexual nature, surrounding factors become more relevant, including the person's professional success or popularity. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, his talent, wealth or popularity are not relevant to his degree of guilt. The ever-growing list of women making claims against him over the several decades of his illustrious career should remain the focal point, with the only relevant information being what he did to his victims.

Most women know and have experienced the fact that there are a substantial number of men in society who are willing to use their power, physical or otherwise, to get what they want sexually from women. Which is why so many of us, myself included, have responded to the Weinstein story with sadness, but not surprise. I would be far more surprised by stories from women who have never experienced sexual harassment or assault at the hands of a man — that would be a truly shocking headline.

 

"It is vitally important that commentary around Weinstein remains self-aware, and vigilant against falling into the trappings of the disturbing assumptions that underpin rape culture."

 

This reality has been highlighted in recent days by the #MeToo campaign on Facebook and Twitter, with staggering numbers. The campaign gained prominence when actor Alyssa Milano asked women to reply #MeToo on social media to add their name to a growing list of victims of sexual harassment and assault, in the wake of the Weinstein story. The response came not just from big name celebrities but from 12 million Facebook users and 650,000 Twitter users in just 24 hours.

With the enormity of the problem, I join the many women and men who are glad to see the issue getting the air time it deserves, and am grateful to Weinstein's victims for coming forward. I'm glad there are men and women speaking out in support of the victims, and against this very wealthy and highly influential man. Because stories just like these are all around us, as uncomfortable as that truth may be.

For those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment, it can be extremely difficult to take action and bring perpetrators to justice. These difficulties, alongside a culture that all too often excuses such behaviour, perpetuates a culture of silence around the issue that allows it to continue.

We need to rally around the victims and condemn any public offers of support for the perpetrator, especially any hint at making excuses for his behaviour. Any public figure who voices support for Weinstein at this time is consciously or inadvertently supporting what is known as rape culture.

Rape culture gives us the notion that it is in any way understandable, excusable or normal for men to use unequal power dynamics or physical force to get what they want sexually from women. These assumptions are almost fatalistic, implying it is less a choice for a man to do such things and more a natural inevitability. This thinking flies in the face of a foundational belief in western society: that an adult person is responsible for his or her actions.

It is vitally important that commentary around Weinstein remains self-aware, and vigilant against falling into the trappings of the disturbing assumptions that underpin rape culture. Keeping these beliefs alive in any way has very real effects on women and men, young and old, everywhere this culture is allowed to exist. And I can tell you that the memories last a lifetime.

 

 

Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer.

This article was originally published on 18 October 2017.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Harvey Weinstein, rape, sexism


 

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