As sad as it has been to hear all the recent talk about sexual harassment in Hollywood; it is in one way, a relief.  Why would I call it a relief?  Because I believe the time has come wherein not only are we beginning to speak out about how wrong it is – we are finally listening!

Sexual harassment (and other forms of harassment) has been going on for years – but until recently – it was either not believed; or the perpetrator was viewed as having more value than his or her victim; or we were afraid to speak up because the victim always loses.

Lupita Nyong, best known for the show ‘12 Years a Slave’ made this statement:

“Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”

We know that sexual harassment has been going on in Hollywood for years – but to use Tarantino’s words,

“I chalked it up to a ’50s-’60s era image of a boss chasing a secretary around the desk,” Tarantino said. “As if that’s OK. That’s the egg on my face right now.”

The bystander effect:

When I do training on anti-harassment, one of the areas I want to drive home to people is the concept of the bystander effect. The reality is that harassment doesn’t just happen in Hollywood.  It happens in schools, in workplaces, and in homes all over North America.  And – it is not never was and it never will be.

The bystander effect is certainly one of the reasons harassment goes unreported.

Not just sexual harassment, but all harassment – and it occurs for two reasons:

diffusion of responsibility (if others are present, someone feels that other observers are responsible for intervening) and;

social influence (bystanders observe others’ behavior to determine the correct behavior; so if no one is intervening then that seems to be the correct behavior, as people abide by the status quo). This can even give the appearance that the behavior is condoned by observers.

We need to clearly identify what harassment is and how to recognize a problem when they see it; we must teach observers to help others when they witness inappropriate conduct; we need to increase accountability of the observer and make it clear they have a responsibility to intervene or report and support the victims and finally; it’s worth noting that interventions are more effective when initiated by men according to Harvard Business Review.

There are other reasons people don’t speak up sooner and I suspect that until you are in such a position yourself; you cannot really know the full reasons – but here are some questions victims often ask themselves:

“Who will believe me? Did I encourage the behaviour somehow?  Will I lose my job and never find work again? Will I be labeled as a complainer or the problem?”

And here’s an excerpt from an article written by Emma Jacobs, in ‘Today’ October 30, 2017 that provides even more insight as to unreported events  . . . Of the minority who did report sexual behaviour:

“Very few saw a positive outcome. Nearly three-quarters reported that there was no change and 16 per cent reported that they were treated worse as a result”.

“The woman is exiled,” says Jennifer Berdahl, professor of leadership at the University of British Columbia. This is a particular problem in professions where social networks are important. Kiran Daurka, employment partner at Leigh Day, the UK law firm, says victims often feel “scared and cornered” . . . “There is a massive loss of self-esteem.”

And the fear factor is very real for victims. If a victim reports an incident to the police and ends up in a courtroom, defense lawyers are going to do their best to defend the perpetrator.  It is their job to do so but it means that the victim will be attacked, her/his credibility will be questioned, her/his past history will be exposed for the entire world to see, and more often than not; they will suffer some form of reputational damage whether that’s fair or not.

A rather sickening example of the victim being re-victimized was illustrated by Canada’s Federal Court Judge Camp who asked a victim of sexual assault:

“Why didn’t you keep your knees together?”

How quickly would you jump up to be counted knowing this is what you’re up against?

It is for this reason that I say that the most recent explosive outpouring of complaints coming in against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Space, Louis C.K., et al is a relief.

There is strength in numbers – hence the #MeToo movement.  We need to keep talking – keep educating – and keep supporting one another from all kinds of harassment and disrespectful conduct.

Who knows, maybe we really are entering into a new level of recognition that changes need to occur – respecting one another as equal human beings.