Emotional Health

#MeToo: Humiliation Revisited

Writing in The Washington Post, Kathryn Leehane says “Even when police apprehend abusers, the system is not designed to support victims. We are left to relive the horror, battle humiliation, face blame and endure loss of privacy in a way that victims of other crimes simply do not. The powerful find defenders, judges hand down lenient sentences, authorities decide not to pursue action, school administrators promise to look into allegations and never do. Just 38 percent of rapes that are reported result in an arrest and prosecution, compared with 62 percent of murders. Most of us never get justice, and in its absence, the broken system forces us to find our own resolution.”

In the past, women who spoke up seldom found any satisfying conclusion to the trauma of abuse. In fact, revealing the experiences that they have endured can cause women to again suffer the feelings of humiliation and vulnerability that they have been carrying with them; in effect they experience a re-traumatization. Worse, many women, including Weinstein’s victims, have found themselves disbelieved, intimidated, or threatened when they approached authorities. Ms. Leehane, reporting a teacher’s abuse, was told by the school’s administration to back off if she didn’t want to get sued.

Many women make the calculation that it is better to remain silent. Others are too traumatized and ashamed to speak out. Yes, there is safety in numbers, but will this nascent movement make a difference? Will the pain of remembering and reliving these incidents lead to substantive change?

For such change to occur, those women who are psychologically strong enough must continue to speak out, regardless of the pain that speaking entails for each woman who has been abused. The culture itself that has supported and condoned abusive behavior must change as well. “The shock wave of Weinstein’s implosion must reverberate. What happened to his victims happens all over the globe. In every industry: restaurants, factories, universities, corporations. If the world can finally see this as a universal experience for women (and some men, too), not just in Hollywood, things can change. We can change them,” wrote Gillian Bohrer and Dana Resnick two female executives in the entertainment industry.

In the absence of an ongoing movement, women may suffer another kind of shame: not speaking out. It is a very personal decision to make: to decide to share the details of your worst humiliation, one that involves your sexuality. As one woman quoted in The Washington Post said, “I don’t want to be an activist.”

I am encouraged, however, that so many women’s voices are being raised. We must insist that these voices are being heard as well.

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