While the world breathes a sigh of relief as Harvey Weinstein is convicted for his crimes, I find myself unable to exhale.
I’m not quite ready for the deluge of news stories championing a system that worked. I’m not quite ready for public discussions about the people he assaulted and what this verdict means for them. I don’t want to reflect on what this verdict means for me, a survivor whose primary perpetrators died before they were brought to justice.
When someone in our community or culture is sexually assaulted, it’s a moment of reckoning for each and every one of us participating in this grand cultural experiment. Sexual violence is preventable and we did not prevent this. While perpetrators need to be held accountable for their crimes, we need to hold ourselves accountable for enabling their behavior through our patterns of silence.
Silence enabled a rapist to rape with impunity for decades. Silence allows us to turn our heads when we know something isn’t right. Silence holds us back from supporting survivors when they are brave enough to speak #MeToo into the dark abyss, and hear only shaming and blaming in response.
I may not know Harvey Weinstein or any of his victims personally, but I know I’m partially to blame for this. And while Harvey Weinstein may have been found guilty today, our silence was not on trial.
We cannot let each other continue to get away with silence. Conversation is culture, and we can change culture by changing the conversations we have with each other – and how we have them.
Today, reach out to a friend you know survived sexual assault. How are you doing with the news coverage of the Weinstein case? What are you doing to take care of yourself today? How can I help?
Today, talk to a colleague about whether they feel safe and respected at work. What is it like to be afraid at work? What is it like to be feared?
And finally, if you are a survivor of sexual violence, I am sorry. I am sorry I didn’t do more to create a world that sees your pain and supports your healing. I am sorry I didn’t speak up when I saw something that didn’t sit right. I am sorry I didn’t donate more to the organizations set up to support you. I am sorry I didn’t ask more candidates what they were doing to create safety and respect.
I say this to you. I say this to myself. I say it as a prayer for all of us.
I am a survivor of sexual violence—but for much of the time I didn’t recognize what was happening. It got absorbed into my mind as ‘how the world was’—the bitter, sometimes violent, daily arguments between my parents as they struggled in their own lives; the male focused culture in which I grew to adulthood (Sorry, we don’t hire women; If you’re not married we can’t prescribe birth control pills; Boys will be boys; You throw like a girl), the songs we listened to—all that went unnoticed in my sexual coming of age.
Oh, I could perform sex well–physically, flexibly, creatively, orgasmicly. But within me lay a force-field that kept healthy intimacy at bay–a sadomasochistic vision of intimate relationships.
The overt sexual violence—physical rape, being followed for hours by men who wouldn’t leave me alone, the police turning a blind eye to the ongoing peeping Tom at my window, my uncle trying to kiss me on the couch while looking at family pictures—incidents such as these are easy to identify.
But to recognize and unlearn the covert violence we perpetrate upon ourselves—that is a life’s work. The person who finds the capacity to step forward each day on this path becomes a seed crystal around which other people gather—and grow and change the world.