The most recent storm of allegations of sexual harassment/assault has revealed what feminists have known all along: sexual harassment is an everyday reality for women. We’ve come a long way from the days when sexual harassment was a nameless problem — an occupational hazard for women in the workplace. Victims of sexual harassment now have more legal protections, but they still face substantial hurdles such as public scorn, victim-blaming, judgmental scrutiny of their attire and sexual history, pressure from police and possibly the perpetrator not to report, accusations of fame-seeking (as if anyone wants to be famous for being sexually assaulted), the statute of limitations, untested rape kit backlogs, prosecutors and judges who take no action or grant only the most lenient sentence, in addition to not being believed by the majority of people that hear their story. Today, we need to be focusing on how we will create and maintain an environment where all who are victimized can come forward, regardless of their gender identity, without being blamed and shamed.
Sexual assault, sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, rape culture, and misogyny are symptoms of patriarchy. Although definitions of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment differ slightly, they stem from the same mindset that perpetuates all three. Capitalism exacerbates oppression but economic equality alone will not end patriarchy. Only an intersectional feminist revolution dedicated to ending all forms of bigotry and oppression will achieve a fully egalitarian society free from patriarchal control. We strive to reflect these values both inside and outside of the Socialist Party USA.
As socialist feminists, we have a duty to support those who face sexual harassment. Here are some ideas of what you can do to help:
* Give everyone of any gender identity the benefit of the doubt when they step forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
* Listen and empathize. Don’t play devil’s advocate, don’t argue, and don’t interrogate victims. Say “I believe you.” And ask “what can I do to support you?”
* Do not say “I never saw them do anything wrong, they were always nice to me” or “She should have expected that because he’s raunchy.” No one should ever “expect” sexual assault, and abusers rarely put their actions on display for everyone to see.
* Do not minimize others’ experiences, derail their attempts to come forward by saying #notAllMen, compare them to other victims, or make their story about yourself. It’s not about who had it worse.
* Recognize that immediately responding to sexual abuse allegations with “innocent until proven guilty” discourages victims from reporting or coming forward. Most rapists will never be prosecuted, let alone see a day in jail, because victims don’t get to decide if charges will be pressed. Rape kits can only prove whether an act occurred, not whether it was consensual, and most of them will never be tested.
* Focus on the victim’s healing, not the perpetrator’s rehabilitation. If you are more concerned with what it will take for society to forgive a sexual predator than finding justice for the victim, ask yourself why that is, and understand that you cannot accept an apology on the victim’s behalf.
* Boycott media/goods/companies which promote, were created by, or are associated with those who commit acts of sexual harassment or sexual violence.
* Speak out when you hear rape culture rhetoric — let others know you aren’t okay with what is being said.
* Confront friends and colleagues who express sexist, patriarchal views, even if they claim they were “joking” or “being ironic.”
* Find marches, rallies, and events with a clear goal to end rape culture or help organize events in your area.
* Volunteer and support local women’s advocacy groups, feminist groups, and/or rape crisis centers.
* Give verbal and written support to victims who have come forward and publicly stand in solidarity with them. #IBelieveHer
* Attend and help promote a Socialist Feminism 101 Women’s Commission workshop.
* Repeat and spread the ideas that:
* Consent must be clear, given without duress, and continuous; it can be withdrawn at any time — there’s no such thing as leading someone on or not being able to stop.
* Only a yes (not just the absence of no) means affirmative consent in that moment, and a yes to one act doesn’t mean a yes to different acts or future occurrences.
* Consent is mandatory for engaging in sexual activity or exchanging nude pictures. But that does not automatically mean it is appropriate to just ask anyone in the street, the office, or online if you can have sex with them, expose yourself, or send them nude pictures.
* No one owes anyone sexual access for any reason. People’s feelings that they are entitled to attention, smiles, dates, or romantic interest indicate an unhealthy disregard for others’ boundaries, and imply a sense of entitlement to someone’s body as well.
* Any sexual act, whether it is acted upon or verbalized, that is directly abusive or disrespectful to the abused, is up to the abused to decide how it makes them feel.
* Power dynamics between men and women, bosses and employees, and gender roles all contribute to rape culture. Having financial power, physical power, or emotional power over someone makes it easier for sexual predators to get away with abusive actions.
* What you may think is a harmless gesture at work, such as a hug, touch on the back or leg, or following closely, may make someone feel very uncomfortable and powerless to object without being retaliated against. Context always matters, and actual outcome matters more than intentions.
* Sexual assault, catcalling, and other predatory behavior that makes people feel unsafe is about power, not sex. Therefore, it is not only rude and sexist to blame women for rape due to their dress or sobriety (especially since intoxicated people legally cannot give consent), but also factually incorrect.
From the International Women’s Day Issue of The Socialist: