2017 was the year that women made their voices heard, particularly in Hollywood. It was there that women spoke out, and their allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein and a growing list of other high-profile men launched a national conversation about power and abuse. As a result, we have reached a tipping point and nationwide, women from all walks of life are courageously speaking out about being harassed, groped, cat-called and even raped. These women have broken their silence, and by talking about their experiences in the workplace and in their communities, they are helping other women do the same.
Some women are feeling emboldened by the actions of others, and stepping up to say, “me too,” whereas others still hesitate. Perhaps they are worried about the ramifications of doing so. Maybe they are afraid they won’t be believed, or worry about retaliation, harm to their careers, financial losses, threats to their safety and more.
Some experts speculate we’ve just reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes exposing sexual harassment. According to a 2017 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study, three-fourths of sexual harassment victims never report it. The EEOC also reports that up to 85 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and many men as well. However, other reports show the tide is shifting. One evidence of this is a TIME/SurveyMonkey online poll of American adults conducted in November, where 82% of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations. Either way, there are still a lot of women keeping their stories to themselves, and not receiving the support and resources they need.
Whether a woman steps forward with allegations, or shares her story with you quietly — a whispered conversation over a cup of coffee, or a tearful recount at the water cooler — she needs your support. After all, punishments and threats to keep women quiet remain prevalent, and whether she makes headlines or just makes small waves, she needs to know she is not alone. It is up to us, women and men, to support the women who find the courage and strength to share their stories, and support them as they navigate the process. Here are a few ways we can help.
Listen – Listening builds a foundation of trust, creates empathy, and paves the way for conversation. If we all take real time to listen, we can truly support the woman speaking her truth and clearly show her that her voice has merit. But as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, experts find we’re naturally not good at listening. We have a tendency to swap stories, so we interrupt. We’re uncomfortable with emotions, so we avoid focusing too closely on someone else’s feelings. We’d rather talk about ourselves, so we rush the talker along. We need to hone our listening skills, take time to hear what each woman has to say, be a support, and help the speaker share her truth.
Lend Your Voice – Today, the actions of the women speaking out are spurring many others to do the same. As we can see in TIME’s “Silence Breakers,” whether the woman speaking out is a world-famous actress in Hollywood or a housekeeper or a nurse in the Midwest, what separates them is less important than what brought them together — a shared experience. Whether you have a story of your own to share, or want to lend your voice to theirs to bring about accountability and change, now is the time to make your voice heard. We must add our voices to this cause. We must be part of the solution.
Offer Your Support – Those who have come forward publicly have helped others, and many women now feel safe speaking out. These advances are real and valuable. However, we need to look deeper at the inequalities that keep harassers safe and victims silent. We need to support initiatives geared towards removing these inequalities and creating a just and equal workplace and society. Whether you volunteer, join in a march, participate in a movement, or reach out to your human resources department or elected officials – act. Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and observe. Lend your time, talent, and resources to help bring about change. We can also reach out to our male allies and ask for their support. While they may not be able to directly relate to the experiences that women are sharing, they can and do feel empathy, express compassion, and can lend their voices and support, not only to help prevent harassment, but to build a world where equality isn’t the exception, but the rule.
The time to act is now. The world is paying attention. It is crucial that we keep moving forward, help women speak out, and do what we can to build a world where all women, and men, are able to live without fear of harassment, and are valued and treated equally.