The “Secret” is Out. Now What?
By Debra Greenwood
For those of us who have experienced the type of sexual harassment, abuse, or rape that is such a topic in the news today, there may be a mixture of feelings: relief that, finally, women are being believed and taken seriously about these assaults on us; anger that this type of abuse is so pervasive; and sadness that it continues to this day. Far too many girls and women have not experienced the human right of body integrity. Far too many (mainly men) have invaded us, disregarded us, and then discarded us.
There is a bittersweet irony to these allegations suddenly being taken seriously. This irony is not lost on those of us who are members of the “least of these” groups. Although it is definitely a good thing that women are finally being believed and action is being taken by corporations to minimize their legal exposure by purging their ranks of serial abusers, we all know that this type of behavior has gone on for a LONG time. From the time of American slavery, white, male slave owners have used their position of authority and power to rape enslaved women and children. In more recent times, housekeepers of color – who have worked for rich, white men – have been sexually victimized by their employers. Desperate to keep their jobs, there has been little or no recourse, save resignation, for these women. In order to eat, they’ve had to endure the abuse. The fact that these women were victimized made no real impact on society. It wasn’t until white women were more widely abused that women were believed and action taken. Much like the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, it wasn’t until men revealed their abuse that the whole scandal blew up and became such a blight on the church.
The lack of concern for people of color and women is a social ill that will take a lot of work to correct. It will require all of us to do soul searching and the necessary work to rid ourselves and our society of this thinking. It is work that must be done. The courageous among us have already begun this work and we are grateful for what they are doing.
However, with regard to the prevention of sexual abuse, there is work that we, as women, must do now. We must seize the time and drive the narrative of how these egregious acts are prevented and punished. It is not enough to be satisfied that our secrets are being revealed and taken seriously. We must take responsibility for our own liberation from this social scourge. We have to be the leaders in retooling social thought on how women and men experience body integrity and respect for the body integrity of others.
Prevention of these heinous and life-altering acts is the gift we give to the countless girls and boys who might be future victims.
Fortunately, work on this issue has already begun. Parents are being discouraged to “offer up” their children to family friends and relatives for hugs and kisses. Let the child decide if they want to be touched. Discussion about body integrity must be taught from an early age regarding a person’s right to allow or reject touching – of any kind.
There are many issues for us to address in this current scandal:
- How do we regulate workplace behavior so that all workers are free of unwanted comments and behaviors?
- If more women were in positions of power and authority, would women still experience sexual harassment at current levels?
- What should the consequences be of violating the body integrity of others? Warnings? Treatment? Termination of employment? Arrest?
- Why are employers paying for the unethical/illegal behavior of their employees? Shouldn’t the offender be financially responsible for his/her behavior?
- Should our tax payer money be used to pay off victims of sexual harassment/abuse?
- How can women be assured a seat at the table when these issues are addressed?
My sisters, the time is NOW to come together for our common welfare. And when we come together, be mindful of who has a seat at your table. Is there diversity in age, color, sexual orientation, physical/mental ability, and class? Do those at your table have a real voice or are they just there as window dressing? Our power and our wisdom are in our diversity.
We can do this. We must do this….
Debra Greenwood is still a 1960s activist in 2017. She is impressed by the way young people of today organize and learns a lot from them. Along the way she has earned an RN and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. She is married to her partner of 21 years, Ida Miller. She is happiest when working to improve the world in some small way.