Believing Changes Everything
Nearly every woman I know has been harassed at least once by a man. Certainly not all men harass women, but enough do to make women preemptively cautious and afraid. Fear of men is so normalized that it seems like common sense. We teach our daughters to be afraid when walking through a parking garage or down the street late at night. We carry our keys and buy pepper spray. Many women think twice before getting on the elevator if a man is there. When meeting someone new on a first date we meet in a public place, with an exit plan. We expect to encounter “dirty old men” on the street, at a wedding or a family reunion. More than a third of us have been afraid of spouses, partners, boyfriends or girlfriends. And it starts early: one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually assaulted during childhood – almost always by men.
What is new is this: suddenly, women are being believed. And this has the power to change everything.
It’s new that our focus is on the men who perpetrate this violence, and we are not derailed into some version of victim-blaming. It’s new that day after day, story after story, the dialogue remains serious and focused. It’s new that abusers are facing severe consequences.
We need to keep listening. The avalanche of “Me toos” of the last month are merely the tip of the iceberg. #MeToo needs to be followed with #IBelieveYou, because it is still only some women and men who have been safe enough to come forward. There are so many more who still have reason to be afraid and to doubt that their stories will be met with moral outrage, compassion and support. The stories that are not pouring forth are a measure of how far we still have to go. We’ve not made it safe yet for many women and girls of color, for people with disabilities, for workers who make minimum wage and those who are in the service industry to tell their stories and seek justice.
In the coming weeks, we need to step up and be intentional in creating safe and respectful environments in our workplaces, in our homes, in community gathering places and in public spaces. We need to implement recommendations from experts. We need to change our language: stop using “alleged” or “complained” when describing the testimony of victims of sexual violence. We don’t feel compelled to qualify our descriptions when discussing victims of other crimes. How many examples do we need before we stop couching our condemnations with “if true, this behavior is despicable.”
Let’s rise to this moment and learn to instead say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Do you want to talk about it? Are you getting the support and care that you need and deserve? I’m here for you, and I believe you.”
Believing changes everything.
Kristy Trautmann is executive director of FISA Foundation.