After dozens of women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault earlier this month, the internet exploded with an outpouring of support for the women involved, and a new viral hashtag emerged, #MeToo.
Posts tagged with #MeToo flooded social media outlets this past week, with posters sharing stories of past experiences of sexual harassment and assault, bringing the issue of sexual abuse into the national spotlight.
The Weinstein case and #MeToo have ignited fresh conversation on preventing sexual harassment and assault on campus. Mary Moschella, a pastoral care and counseling professor at the Yale Divinity School, said the pervasiveness of such incidences perpetuates a national culture that passively condones sexual abuse.
“Sexual abuse and harassment are so common that such experiences are normative.” she said. “That passivity contributes to this culture, a kind of looking away and pretending not to see.”
Moschella responded to the Weinstein scandal and the ensuing social media campaign with an editorial published in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 20. In her op-ed, she argued that cases like those of Weinstein, Cosby and Trump are emblematic of a “culture of abuse” that American society has yet to fully address.
Moschella told the News there is a tendency to minimize reports of sexual abuse, particularly when the victim is alone in her claims and the perpetrator is in a position of power.
“If only one woman reports abuse, the papers say that it’s a case of ‘He said, she said,’ and there is not enough evidence to convict,” Moschella said. “When individuals do bring charges, they are often verbally attacked by defense lawyers and accused of lying. They are asked what they were wearing, as if this matters.”
In some cases, this can devolve into victim blaming, in which detractors will seek an explanation for instances of sexual abuse in the behavior of the victim rather than in that of the abuser.
Zoë Chance, a professor at the Yale School of Management, published an article in Psychology Today last week titled “Here’s Why We Don’t Speak Up Against Harassment.” In it, she challenged the notion that the Weinstein scandal and others like it are isolated cases.
“We need to decide that, while protecting the accused is important, protecting the victim is paramount,” Chance said. “She has already been abused and the investigation is generally a second trauma. And she didn’t ask for any of it.”
In an interview with the News, Chance described her own experience with sexual harassment, saying she was once harassed by a group of men at a conference hosted by a Yale colleague. Chance said she eventually pointed out the culprits to her colleague, who immediately took action to prevent the men from returning to the conference.
Chance cited this as an appropriate response to accusations of sexual abuse. Rather than cast doubt on the validity of her claims, her colleague sought first to ensure that no further assault would take place.
Roland Brewster ’20, co-director of United Against Sexual Assault at Yale, said small incidents that pass in everyday conversation contribute to a dangerous normalization of sexual assault and harassment.
“You can see the most damaging aspects of rape culture in the little things that people say,” Brewster said. “The reason why ‘locker room talk’ is so insidious is because it normalizes the more egregious instances of sexual abuse.”
While people might not mean to contribute to this culture of abuse with their comments, Brewster explained, they have a responsibility to understand the effects of their words.
Actively holding friends and acquaintances accountable for what they say is the first step to creating a more conscious and supportive community, Brewster said.
“Men who feel entitled to power over others’ bodies may feel threatened by this moment,” Moschella said. “But people of good conscience — whatever their gender — will recognize that these patterns of abuse are causing great harm. The point is not to paint any group as the villain, but to change attitudes and actions that harm and demean human beings.”
Tarana Burke first used the phrase “Me Too” as part of a campaign against sexual abuse in 2006.
Daniel Dager | firstname.lastname@example.org