By Tatiana Shams, Content Manager
It’s the story breaking the internet: Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace after several accusations of sexual assault, harassment, misconduct and rape. Since the story broke earlier this month, several women (and men) have spoken against Weinstein’s alleged casting couch practices, which apparently go back to the late 90s.
Unfortunately, the Weinstein scandal is not an isolated event. This year alone, we’ve had other similar stories that involve influential people such as Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and even Kevin Spacey—all of which leaves us wondering: how come so many people decided to stay silent in situations where there’s abuse? Is there real strength in numbers as we see today with the men and women that decided to speak out against Weinstein’s alleged unwanted sexual advances?
As we hear thousands of voices clamoring for justice in favor of our favorite stars via web, television and printed media, we also hear a lot of judgment about the alleged victims’ actions—or lack thereof:
“Staying silent makes you an accomplice.”
“Staying silent perpetuates sexual abuse.”
“You need to speak out.”
“Why did you stay silent?”
“I would have said something.”
“That would have never happened to me.”
The truth is that speaking out against abuse is not always a readily available option for people experiencing relationship abuse or sexual assault. We bear witness to this, as more than 50 accusers have only now come forward against Weinstein’s misconduct. And we also hear it from the thousands of people who reach out to The Hotline for help every day. We know that abuse thrives in isolation and that it walks hand-in-hand with fear.
Fear muzzles the truth. It hides behind a veil of shame, and it rips you open from the inside out, making you feel like less of a person. We also know first-hand that fearing an abusive partner can be paralyzing, traumatizing and have long-lasting effects on people’s psyche and body. This fear is perhaps what happened to the many victims affected by Weinstein in the last two decades. Maybe they were simply too afraid to speak out.
To understand violence, we need to accept that fear is a completely natural reaction to a threat, and therefore, it is OK to be afraid. What we can’t do, however, is point fingers at the victims and blame them for not speaking out sooner. We are not in their shoes, and we will never know exactly how they feel. In light of this, here are some reasons why victims and survivors may feel afraid of talking about their experience with abuse:
- Fear of being judged or not being believed: Being a victim of abuse can leave victims feeling ashamed and less-than a person. It can also leave them feeling like no one will believe them because it’s somehow their fault or that they were asking for it. The truth is that regardless of how the abuse happened, abuse is never the victim’s fault and they were never asking for it. It’s worth repeating: it’s important to remember to provide a sympathetic ear free of judgment, validate the other’s person’s experience and just being present when victims of violence or sexual assault are ready to open up.
- Fear of retaliation and going nowhere in their careers: The Weinstein scandal brings this concept relatively close to home: victims fearing they would never find work because of the power Weinstein had in the film industry. The same can be said for people outside of the movie industry because, as we know, abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of social status, gender, color or background. Our callers and chatters tell us how very real the fear of retaliation is as many of them fear being ostracized by their communities, outed if they are LGBTQIA or afraid of losing their children, their jobs and their credibility and reputation amongst family and friends.
- Fear of feeling responsible for the abuse or that speaking up can lead to direct physical harm: Sometimes there’s a huge level of shame associated with attacks like this, as many survivors may feel it was their fault or that speaking up against their abuser may be unsafe and lead to physical harm. According to the New Yorker, feeling responsible for the alleged abuse was reported by Italian actress, Asia Argento. She said she felt responsible for not fighting back because “If I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.” Feeling responsible for not fighting back, for allowing the attack to happen or for not feeling strong enough is also something that we also hear from callers that reach out to us. The thing is, however, that abuse has nothing to do with the victim! It’s about the abuser’s desire for power and control—as simple as that. No matter why it happens, abuse is not OK and it’s never justified. You are never too small to make a difference and you should not feel responsible for something that was never your fault in the first place.
To the many survivors out there, remember: you are not alone. We believe you, regardless of when and how you decide to speak your truth. We support you and are here for you whenever you feel like you want to talk—no matter when you decide to do so.