BY SUSAN KATHERINE CORKRAN, STAFF WRITER
High-profile stories of alleged sexual assaults are continuing to play out on the national stage, leading us to face as a nation the question: “To what moral standards are we willing to hold the people who write, enforce and interpret our laws?”
It should be an easily answerable question, yet with the underlying pain and shame of coming forward to report sexual assault, the “Me Too” movement is still hindered by great obstacles. The hashtag “Why I didn’t report” trended on Twitter as survivors of sexual violence explained why they did not feel safe formally reporting the attacks to police or authorities at school, work, church etc. It was heartbreaking to see just how many peoples’ voices were silenced because, as a society, we do not want to believe victims.
There’s the simple, ugly truth of it. We do not want to hear that a trusted politician, respected community leader, funny comedian, professional news anchor or talented musician could possibly have committed sexual assault. A string of questions barrages the victim who has spoken out about the abuse asking, “Why didn’t you say something earlier? Are you after his money? Did you say yes at the time and just change your mind now? What about your own sexual history? Were you asking for it?” The sickening list can go on and on. There seems to be a thousand excuses for the accused, a thousand questions for the victim and a thousand reasons to want to believe that nothing ever happened.
Our responses to these stories of deep-rooted misogyny and sexual mistreatment matter. The exact words we use, the tone we employ, and the compassion that we either extend or withhold all matter. There have been two ways that I have heard the word “ruined” used in relation to celebrities or other public figures facing charges of rape, harassment and assault. The first way is dismayed, former fans saying things like “My favorite stand-up specials are ruined for me now. I can’t see Louis CK’s face without thinking about the sick things he did.” The second way sounds more like this: “I can’t believe there are women out there who want to ruin Louis CK’s career by making all of these accusations against him!”
I’m picking Louis CK’s name out of a hat here. There are many more recently disgraced public officials to choose from, though I will refrain from political commentary on the most prominent of the accused men. When it comes to entertainers, at least the discussion can be held without dividing up along increasingly divisive party lines. Interesting arguments can and have been made about separating the behavior of an artist from their work, though this is not the article where I intend to delve into such complex topics. Right now, I am more interested in the kind of strong emotional responses we are showing as a country to the crisis of sexual mistreatment coming to light in all corners of life.
And it truly is a crisis. There have been attempts in the past to raise awareness for proper workplace behavior, preventing sexual harassment, and educating teenagers about consent and respect. All of these are steps in the right direction, but we need to lay more groundwork as a society to spur the movement forward. “Me Too” is not a distant phenomenon existing only on Twitter or news reels. There are millions of people living with the traumatic pain of sexual assault, and if we wish to claim American Exceptionalism, let’s strive to be exceptional in all things—especially the way we treat one another.