Speak Up: Sexual Harassment Has No Place in Society

Meya Smith , Editor-in-Chief

Imagine, as a man, what life is like as a woman. Picture life in your adolescence looking at the large movie screen and seeing a female character who is independent from a man, is clearly intelligent, humorous, and a role model. Imagine that, even in your young age, you can recognize just how rare this moment is. As a female, it is easy to recognize we are oppressed, not equal, less than. If we take a look back to 1920, we are reminded of the obvious and detrimental social constructs that have branded women as delicate beings, who are not able to handle heavy responsibilities, of things such as involvement in political issues. In 1920, our battle was gaining the right to vote. Today, we fight to be safe.


Sexual harassment has always been an issue in society and mostly impacts females. The U.S. Department of Justice released a census of “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010,” which was revised in 2016. It is important to note that this information was collected from survivors, the data does not include those who were murdered or committed suicide as an end result.

The report, from 1994-98, gathered that only 29% of rape and sexual assault against females were reported. From 2005-10, the number of reported cases grew to 36% while cases that did not get reported still outweighed this number. For all three time spans, one of the most prevalent reasons females did not report the crime was because they were afraid of the possible retribution.


With various actresses speaking out about abuse they have experienced, one question people may have is, “why didn’t she say anything before?” In many cases, women have been assaulted by a man in power. Harvey Weinstein, one of the many men holding power in Hollywood who have been accused of some sort of sexual misconduct, by at least 84 women in the past year– many of which occured years ago.

Weinstein hired young actresses, who at the time, were generally not well-known. He promised them a “big break” in the business. Weinstein knew his power with his position and took advantage of these women.

Dawn Dunning, a woman who spoke against Weinstein, a waitress and aspiring actress, according to USA Today, “told the Times that in 2003 Weinstein lured her to his hotel, where he waited in a bathrobe in front of what he said were contracts for his next three films — but she could only sign them on a condition: She would have to have three-way sex with him. Dunning laughed, assuming he was joking. Weinstein grew angry, she recalls. “You’ll never make it in this business,” she said he told her. “This is how the business works.” Dunning fled.”


Coming back to the question of, “why not say anything when it happened,” the answer is severely simple: women are afraid. Women become concerned for their title. Whether it be she doesn’t want to lose her job, the respect she once had from her peers, or her “purity” others have seen in her. A woman’s entire value is often based off her ability to keep her legs closed and when her legs have been forced, she must have done something wrong to provoke assault such as rape. Say a woman does report the assault, how often is she labeled a slut or stupid? Woman will live in fear because they know her reputation can be ruined, or she will further be put in danger.


It has become common knowledge and widely accepted that in order to advance in the workplace, or the world, as women you are to give a part of yourself up. It’s part of the job. And when a woman says no to sexual advances, it is deemed disrespectful. She is a woman stepping out of her rightful place, denying man of something he believes he has a right to.


When a women is placed in these situations, the word “no” becomes scary. Because if she is to say no, and this angers a man he can become dangerous. It may sound exaggerated, however there have been many instances where women have been killed because she didn’t want to continue a relationship or begin a new one with a man. Just recently, Swedish teen Sophie Johansson was punched in the face and hit over head with a bottle when she pushed a man who began groping her in a club. The Mic writes about 14 different cases in which women were attacked for refusing advances made by men. Lisa and Anna Trubinikova, who were married, are an example of what dangers “just saying no” bring along. Lisa had repeatedly denied Adrian Loya a date. Eventually he surrounded their home with bombs and entered the couple’s home with three rifles and a handgun, killing Lisa and leaving Anna in critical condition. Stories such as these help to explain why she “didn’t just say no.”


Furthermore, women often feel ashamed of themselves. They clutch onto their nightmare keeping it a secret, never allowing themselves to heal. Due to the unfortunate outlook society has driven into us, we look at things such as rape to be bad, not always saying that rapists are bad– just things that provoke a rapist. Forget the questions coming from everyone else (“what were you wearing,” “how much did you have to drink,” and “why didn’t you fight harder to get away?”). These survivors have probably asked what they did, or could have done, where did they go wrong, what did they do to deserve this? She then has to deal with the doubts other people have, “are you sure he wasn’t just playing around,” “what if he didn’t mean it that way,” “are you sure you’re not just being a tease?” Doubt in whether a woman is telling the truth should not be the automatic response. In Hollywood, there are always commentators stating a woman in the business has only reported assaults for attention, quick to defend the honor of a man they have never met. They are bashing women’s image first, and asking questions later. God forbid a woman does create a false accusation, and suddenly every accusation isn’t real.    


While in many cases, what constitutes as sexual harassment or assault is pretty obvious, there are times when things get murky. For instance, what is consent and what does it look like? Recently, Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual assault after he went on a date with a woman who is known as Grace to the public. The story has been at the center of discussions a part of the #MeToo movement (a movement meant to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace). The woman has faced criticism for engaging in sexual activity despite feeling uncomfortable and leaving after the interaction. It is said she didn’t truly and effectively communicate her feelings of discomfort.

The importance of this story is that it shows proof that society is very much in the dark when it comes to consent; whether that means giving it, or not. Grace explained she had given Ansari physical cues and he “ignored” them. However, writer Bari Weiss for the New York Times articulates that, “Aziz Ansari is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader”. Just as in any other situation, sometimes body language is not effective enough to communicate. Not only is it important that we know how to ensure feelings are reciprocated, but also how to say no when they’re not. If in high school, when teens are taught about sex, we were to be able to not just focus on the potential diseases but also consent and how to be more responsible with sex.  


It is difficult to keep up with all of the accusations just in Hollywood, alone. With actors such as James Franco and Kevin Spacey, Writer-Director James Toback, and even our own president, being accused of more than 5 cases of sexual assault, it can seem like a very bleak world. However, it is time to hold everyone accountable. We give a voice to  everyone, because as singer Halsey said in her poem during the NYC Women’s March, “We are not free until all of us are free.” Although the surplus amount of cases within Hollywood are important, we must not forget those who are not given such a platform. It is time we acknowledge that a woman’s validity is not placed between her legs, she is not responsible for attacks taken upon her in both physical and mental ways.


At the end of the day, the only thing causing rape is rapists.