Since last weekend, women (and men) have been posting the phrase “Me too” on their social media accounts if they have ever been the victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The purpose of this exercise is to illustrate just how pervasive these crimes are in our society.
The inescapable fact of the matter is that many people you know and love, (mostly women), have been sexually harassed or assaulted at least once in their lives. Don’t believe me? Then just log on to Facebook or Twitter and see how many of your female friends have posted “Me too” on their pages in the last few days. You will be horrified.
According to studies conducted by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 5 women surveyed said they have either been raped or suffered an attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. Take a minute to think of five women you care about, and then recall the statistic “1 in 5”. If that revelation doesn’t shake you to your core, then I don’t know what would.
The “Me too” social media trend began after accusations were leveled against a powerful Hollywood executive by some very high-profile actresses; charges that included both sexual harassment and rape. These women stand to gain very little from publicly revealing that they have been privately violated, yet many people are questioning the validity or timing of their accusations. While legally it is true that in America everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the reality is that not everyone who is guilty can or will be proven so. Especially in cases of sexual harassment or assault. The brave women who have stepped forward recognize this fact, and have chosen to speak out not for financial gain or notoriety, but to prevent their victimizer from hurting anyone else.
Skeptics have asked why these women didn’t say something sooner. Some did speak up but were dismissed. One woman settled a lawsuit with her perpetrator years ago. Others only felt able to come forward once their careers were secure. All were scared. All knew their allegations would be difficult if not impossible to prove. And all were aware that they stood little chance in taking down a powerful and popular predator on their own. But there’s the rub: They’re not alone.
One study conducted in 1998 estimated that there were over 17 million women living in America who had been the victims of attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives. The number of women who have been sexually harassed at work, school, or other settings where sexual advances are inappropriate and unwelcome is many times higher. While exact figures are impossible to collect, spending an evening on Facebook and reading the first-hand accounts of many of my female friends is all the evidence I need to know that sexual harassment and assault is rampant in our “civilized” society.
Why do these crimes occur with such frequency in our country? How has this been tolerated for so long? How does a Hollywood mogul get away with mistreating so many women for so many years and still keep his high-profile job? And how did a man who has been seen and heard on television and radio proudly bragging about kissing, groping, and sexually assaulting women get elected President of the United States? How indeed.
The answer is that men have been allowed to treat women like inferior objects rather than human beings. In a country founded 241 years ago, women have only been allowed to vote for the last 97. Despite passing the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women still earn 23% less than men for doing the same work. A Constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women has still yet to pass.
Consider this: Marital rape was not illegal in all 50 states until 1993. Yes, you read that correctly. Just 25 years ago a husband could legally rape his wife in Oklahoma and North Carolina. And if her religion prohibited it, she would not be allowed to divorce him.
Women deserve better. They deserve equal pay and benefits for doing equal work, and they deserve not to be subjected to sexual harassment while doing that equal work. They deserve to dress as they like and not be cat-called on the sidewalk. They deserve to be able to give someone a friendly smile on the street without being dragged into an alley, raped, and then told they were asking for it. Women deserve to be treated with dignity, fairness, compassion, and respect.
We can do better, men. Me too.