For the one in four women and one in six men who have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes, the revelations about Harvey Weinstein come as no surprise. This week, at the ITVFest in Manchester, VT, the parties and panels are abuzz with conversations about sexism and harassment in the industry.
When a high profile incident takes place, the volume of the conversation gets louder. But the quality of the conversation doesn’t necessarily improve. That’s why it often feels like we’re having the same conversation again and again, with no progress or action.
In the wake of an accusation of sexual harassment or violence, it’s never okay to blame the victim or victims. And yes, we absolutely need to hold perpetrators accountable. But sexual violence is about more than a perpetrator and his or her victims. It’s about a collective acceptance of sexual violence as a part of life. Through our words, our silence, our actions and our inactions, we send the message to survivors that they won’t be believed and to perpetrators that they can get away with their crimes.
Instead of collective acceptance, we need collective accountability. And that starts with asking a different set of questions. For example, what tools did we provide Harvey’s parents to teach him about empathy and kindness? What training did his elementary school teachers received on safe touching? Did his college make consent education a requirement for all entering students? Did he receive harassment and unconscious bias training as an intern or at his first job? Did the mayor of his town or governor of his state speak publicly about sexual violence and its impact on citizens?
As creators, we have an even deeper responsibility. Yes, art imitates life. But art also influences life. If we are creating, funding or promoting content that accepts the status quo, we cannot be shocked and surprised that perpetrators run amuck. Instead, we can challenge ourselves to create content that dismantles our toxic culture that keeps survivors shamed, allows perpetrators to hide, and prevents our society from moving forward.
We all come to this issue with different levels of experience, so your personal action in the wake of Harvey Weinstein will depend on who you are, and how experienced and comfortable you are with this issue. But here are some places to start:
Have a conversation with yourself. Do I understand the definitions of sexual harassment, sexual violence and consent? Am I able to understand and navigate my own power and privilege? Have I cultivated enough emotional intelligence to address this topic appropriately? Do I have the skill required to speak up when I notice something isn’t right? If not, sign up for a training or a workshop.
Break the ice with your peers. Get curious with those around you. Most likely, there are survivors, allies, and even perpetrators in your midst. By breaking the ice, you can begin to navigate strategies to support survivors, make space for healing and justice, and identify troubling behaviors and attitudes before people are hurt.
Use your platform. Become vocal on this issue. Write a blog post. Require your team to attend a workshop on bias or bystander engagement. Tell your staff that this behavior isn’t tolerated at parties you host, clients you manage, and circles that you operate in. If you are a content creator, create content that addresses sexual violence. Don’t know what that might look like? Check out The Uncomfortable Conversation, a library of video content examining this issue from multiple angles.
Change begins one person at a time, one conversation at time. Together, we can transform from a culture of collective acceptance to collective accountability.
Sarah Beaulieu is a writer, speaker and founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation, dedicated to normalizing conversations about sexual violence among young men. Learn more about her at www.sarahbeaulieu.me.