Over the last several weeks, it has seemed as though almost every other day a high-profile person has been accused of sexual assault or harassment. What began with a few noteworthy allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein a few weeks ago created a ripple effect with dozens more people accusing other figures of similar crimes. With each new headline comes a heartbreaking story, often involving vulnerable victims and powerful perpetrators.
In response to this sudden spike in accusations, some people have begun to question the validity of some of these claims, stating that people are accusing rich and powerful figures of these crimes in search of money or fame. In reality, false accusations of sexual assault are quite rare. Additionally, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 344 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported. Twenty percent of those who did not report their assault said they did not do so because of feared retaliation.
Though these stories take place in the context of Hollywood — a community far different than the one here at Elon University — these accusations have shed light on the toxic environment of sexual misconduct afflicting vulnerable people everywhere. This issue greatly affects communities where power may be yielded irresponsibly, such as Hollywood, but it plagues other workplaces and college campuses as well. It’s time we start talking about it.
Elon students need to care about these accusations — they are not unique. The men and women coming forward with their stories are no different from the people we share this campus with and neither are the accused. And, as seen through the allegations against Kevin Spacey, women aren’t the only people abused by people in power — men are, too.
For many of the people who came forward with their stories, they are met with judgement and even hate. These negative reactions are a great part of the reason why people do not make sexual assault allegation in general. Even in Hollywood, where victims may have far more money, lawyers and resources to tell their stories than others, the fear of being called a liar or other backlash is far greater than the need to share.
This fear stems from the pedestals we place celebrities, congressmen, presidents and other authority figures on. When someone is in a position of power, it is far too common to hold them above the law or believe they can do no wrong. We reject accusations against them because we want to believe they are good people. We did this with Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., and we will do it again. The fear and vulnerability that comes with being abused by someone who is loved and respected is often what holds people back from sharing their stories.
It is incredibly difficult to report sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is even more difficult when the accused is in a position of power or greatly respected. To keep more assault from happening or going unreported on our campus, the Elon community needs to create an environment where victims feel safe enough to report their traumas.
To begin dismantling this complicated issue, we must first create a community that believes and supports victims of sexual assault. If a person comes forward with an accusation, we cannot meet their stories with judgement, retaliation or disbelief, but with support and the overall goal of uncovering the truth. If we create an environment where victims are supported, it may allow others to feel more comfortable and confident in reporting these injustices. This can in turn get us closer to identifying those who may be abusing their power and denormalize the toxic, dangerous cycle of sexual assault and harassment.