Commentary: Victims encourage others to speak out about sexual assault


U.S. Senator Al Franken resigned in December 2017 after being accused of sexual assault. Roy Moore, former Chief of Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, lost the Senate race in Alabama due to accusations against him.

Victims of sexual assault ignited a revolution last year as dozens of women began publicly telling their stories and naming their alleged abusers. 

For the first time in their lives, many women were able to come out of the shadows and fight for justice. The decision to speak up is courageous, but courage alone is not enough. They were courageous for being able to live with the painful memories every day. What they really needed, though, was power.

As of October 2017, 84 women accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and harassment, according to USA Today. One of Weinstein’s employees, Lauren O’Conner, wrote a memo detailing some of the allegations against Weinstein. She wrote about personal experiences and those of colleagues.

O’Conner made a breathtaking point in her memo, “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” She explained that she is a young woman trying to make a living and a career while Weinstein is a world-famous man working above her in his company, according to The New York Times (NYT).

O’Conner had virtually no power, or at least no sense of power to be able to act. Accusing a man with endless resources of despicable acts could easily be the end of her employment, if not career. Her credibility could be tarnished and she could be made to look like a disgruntled employee. 

Her position was not unique. Dozens of people, not just victims of Weinstein, but of actors, comedians, politicians and more, were also left in the shadows. Their stories were hidden away, and only told to friends behind closed doors.

But journalists like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey from The NYT, and Ronan Farrow from The New Yorker, shed light on these stories and how Weinstein and others used his wealth to cover some of them.

The reports sent shockwaves across the country and suddenly gave women an open door to walk through and share their story. TIME Magazine published synopsizes of more than 120 people who are accused of sexual misconduct.

While media outlets have helped empower women, there are some possible negative consequences. Whether its newspapers, websites, television newsrooms or magazines, publishers and producers may inadvertently be promoting a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality among the public.

Every week, if not every day, there is a new headshot of a public figure with the words “allegations of sexual misconduct” or something similar next to it. With so many people accused of sexual assault it is hard, if not impossible for journalists to investigate every case and provide the same bombshell reporting that started with Weinstein.

In many cases, journalists cannot get the accused to comment on the allegations. Some stories are left without endings, while others result in people being fired or resigning from their positions. Still, the truth is not always uncovered, and whether these women receive closure is unknown.

The fear is there are now so many stories that people’s voices may be drowned out by each other. This could lead to them being virtually left in the dark like they were before. It is important for media outlets to remain dedicated to pursuing these stories and following up with them so the accused are not assumed to be guilty and the accusers are not forgotten about.

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