First published on Thursday the 12th of October, 2017, this piece comes in at number 15 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2017.
I saw a tweet that spoke to me yesterday.
Women: This man is bad
Men: You’re overreacting
Women: Here’s proof
Men: Why didn’t you tell us earlier, this is your fault
I read it, and gritted my teeth. The allegations that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted a growing number of women in Hollywood have brought to the surface amazing and infuriating things. On the amazing side are the brave women who have spoken out about their horrendous experiences. On the infuriating are the people who are blaming women who were harassed or assaulted for not coming forward earlier.
As a woman who has spoken out about sexual harassment and abuse, this story has brought up a lot of different emotions. At the top of the list is sympathy, but also rage and frustration.
Let me be very clear: If you are a person having a go at a woman who was sexually harassed, abused or assaulted for not taking the terrifying step of speaking out publicly about the abuse she endured, or not doing it quickly enough, you need to sit down and shut your mouth.
If you somehow think that your opinion about why women should be ‘braver’ and ‘name and shame’ incredibly powerful men is valid, let me be the one to tell you that it is not.
Last year, I spoke out about sexual harassment and abuse that I’d experienced in the music industry over a period of around six years (roughly between the ages of 19 and 25). It took me months to work up the nerve to write the column, and it had taken me years to come to terms with what had happened to me. I knew, as I sat down to write it, what I was risking. I knew that I couldn’t stay silent anymore. I also knew that I couldn’t name the people who had abused and harassed me.
Almost all of the men who violated my boundaries were (and many still are) more powerful than I was. Many of them had connections not only in the music industry, but in the media and other industries too. I knew that there would be professional repercussions, and who willingly signs up for throwing away a career that they sacrificed their childhood for and dedicated their life to? Who should have to? Why should someone who had the misfortune of being manhandled by creeps have to pay so dearly for daring to say, ‘this is wrong’?
To name them was also to take the risk that I might end up in a courtroom being sued for defamation. The best defence in a defamation case, of course, is truth, and I had that on my side, but some of the situations in which I’d experienced abuse would’ve come down to a ‘she said, he said’ equation. I didn’t like the chances that my ‘she said’ would hold more weight than their ‘he saids’. Especially when some of them were powerful enough to afford the best legal representation money can buy.
The threat of being hauled into court paralysed me. People underestimate the amount of energy and courage it takes to speak about some of the most uncomfortable experiences of your life. The idea of having to relive those awful moments, to have my credibility challenged and my reputation smeared was just too much for me.
A lot of sexual harassment and abuse happens when no one else can see. But a lot of it doesn’t. A significant amount of it happens at industry events and in work situations, where abusers can count on witnesses looking the other way.
There were actually a few situations that could be reliably backed up by witnesses, but I had no way of knowing whether any of them would come forward to support me, given that their own professional and personal loyalties would likely be affected in the process. When my column was published, however, one man who is an absolute champion – who rescued me when I sat stuck in a booth being molested by a much older man – offered to go on the record and vouch for me should I ever need him to. I will be forever grateful to him, as his assurance gave me the strength to stand up for myself when I was later confronted by the man who molested me.
Also weighing on my mind when I wrote my column was the fact that the majority of my abusers have wives and children. I couldn’t bring myself to inflict what would be a very public betrayal and humiliation upon a group of innocent people, the kind of hurt that could have the power to damage families.
Do I feel comfortable with my decision? No. I don’t think I ever will. I still today feel guilty that I couldn’t do more to expose the insidious and predatory behaviour I’d experienced. Call me weak. Call me whatever you want. But I know that I did what I could. I hope at least that I fired a warning shot across the bow. And I’ll keep trying to do more.
Would it be great if more victims of sexual harassment, abuse or assault – of any gender – felt that they could come forward and tell their stories? Of course. But no victim should ever be shamed for not coming forward. The stakes are incredibly high. And what they’ve already experienced was bad enough.Support Villainesse