When the allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein made headlines, part of me wanted to be shocked and surprised. When the “Me Too” campaign took off shortly after, with countless survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence posting “me too” on social media, I again wished that I was shocked, either by the number of posts or the fact that I personally know so many survivors. But the truth is, I wasn’t.
We’ve known that sexual harassment and violence has been a social problem for decades. There have been high profile court cases, survivors sharing their stories, and political debates that seek to either draw attention to, or – unconscionably – minimize the issue. We even had to coin a term – “rape culture” – to describe the prevalence and normalization of sexual violence in America. We’ve known for years that this is a prevalent issue, and we also know that our already alarming statistics are inaccurate because oftentimes sexual crimes and misconduct go unreported. So, no, I wasn’t surprised by the allegations against Weinstein or the number of survivors who chose to speak up.
What did surprise me, in a good way, is that it seems we may have finally reached the tipping point because now survivors are speaking up. Enough has changed in our own American rape culture that survivors are feeling safe enough to share their experiences because, finally, we as a society are more willing to listen and believe without questioning or assigning blame to the survivor. More importantly, survivors are finding empowerment by taking ownership of their experiences and stories by sharing them, despite knowing that there are still people ready and eager to blame the victim. This is the real tipping point – survivors acknowledging and finding strength in each other, realizing the power of their collective voices, and taking charge of the conversation. Harassment and violence are terrible, traumatizing things; it’s good that the culture is shifting in ways that promote support, rather than shame, for victims and survivors.
It’s also important to know that help is available for anyone affected by sexual violence. One excellent resource is RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), which created and runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline, accessible 24/7. Services can be accessed by phone or through live chat via the RAINN website. The first six digits of a caller’s phone number are used to route the call to local services, which include support, legal information, and medical services, and more. There are over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers, making RAINN a go-to resource for anyone in the country. All information is confidential and won’t be shared without the caller’s consent; the only exception is when state laws require reporting, such as when a child may be in danger. Services are available free of charge for those in all stages of recovery, and over 2.5 million people have been helped by RAINN since it was created in 1994. If something has happened and you don’t know what to do or what your options are, RAINN is a good first call to make.
After the tipping point, things are never the same again. In this instance, my hope is that we change the way we talk about and handle these issues of sexual harassment, violence, and abuse. Now that we are acknowledging the prevalence of the problems, we can begin to take steps to fix them.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is accessible 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE or at Rainn.org