Editor’s note: This subject matter of this article may be sensitive for some readers.
It’s very difficult in this world to be a woman. Though these issues are not gender specific, they are predominantly experienced by women, so for the sake of brevity, I am going to refer to women in this piece. I hope that any women who read this and relate to my sentiments can find strength through my words, and for all the male readers, please keep your daughters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, friends, etc. in mind. Women’s issues are just as important for men to recognize as women, for we must unite as a society in order to bring about justice and change.
This past week social media has been invaded by women posting statuses of “me, too” to acknowledge that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. As one of the many women who shared this status publically, I would like to signify why this is an important step that we as a society are making.
Sexual crimes often go unreported due to factors such as stigmas, social alienation and fear of retribution. By acknowledging their experiences publically, women are helping to create a society in which young girls and women alike no long have to experience shame due to their attacks. Sexual injury is often difficult enough to cope with, so by signifying that it is not something to be ashamed of, we are societally helping to eliminate a stigma and hopefully encourage others to step forward to receive the help and support they need.
However, this does not mean that anyone owes their story to the public. Many people who have been assaulted likely chose not to share the status, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As many have pointed out online, survivors do not owe their story to anyone. I have also read reports on CNN that people sharing their stories may be triggering survivors; while I understand how reliving your experience through someone else’s words may be stressful, hopefully we can face our shared problems as a community now that women are stepping forward—something that has also been witnessed by the dozens of women accusing certain public figures of sexual harassment and assault. These experiences are enormously difficult to cope with, but certainly survivors must now recognize they are not alone.
This brings me to the issue on the opposite end of the spectrum—people doubting the authenticity of the reports women are making. While false reports do occur, they happen an extremely small percentage of the time. Unfortunately they give a bad rep and lend doubt to real allegations, but since they are extraordinarily rare, I urge the public to not let a few scattered lies drown out the overwhelming sea of truth.
This overall issue is especially pertinent, since October also happens to be the month for domestic violence awareness. These crimes are of course not limited to genders, but often involve men committing acts upon women. I read a post online that struck me as curious; it stated that though every woman seems to know of a female who was sexual or physically assaulted, all men seem to deny having knowledge of any attackers. This is a statement that strikes me as holding an unfortunately large amount of truth. It is not enough for us as a society to believe and comfort the women who have been attacked—we must also adequately persecute the attackers. Women have spent enough time living in fear due to their assaults; it’s time that fear is passed on to the assaulters. We should live in a society where men who physically or sexually abuse women feel terrified at all times. It is not acceptable to turn a cheek to offenders because they may be a friend or relative. In order to create a world that is safer for our daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends and wives, we must take action. For clarification, I am referring to redefining what is acceptable in society and focusing on laws, not on violence or revenge, which would bring survivors and relatives down to the level of the attackers.
This movement is a step in the right direction, but it is up to both women and men to enact the change that is much needed in order for us to create a world where women do not have to be afraid to walk home at night. I am in awe of how many incredible women I know who have stepped forward and shared their stories. Never have I felt less alone or more united. I’m proud, as always, to be a part of the sisterhood that is made up of wonderful, strong, courageous women. And for all the men out there going through similar issues or who are standing next to us in the movement — thank you for having our back.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.