OPINION: The sexual harassment storm cloud isn’t going away, because enough’s enough
"Pussy grabbing isn’t a crime anymore, it’s a symbol of power and success"
It’s no accident that since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, sexual harassment, sexual assault and other hate crimes have escalated to the highest point in recent years. Legitimised by those accused of such acts who continue to thrive – becoming the 45th president of the United States for example – only reveals how normalised sexual abuse has become. Pussy grabbing isn’t a crime anymore, it’s a symbol of power and success.
For minorities, these are hard times. Angry white straight men and other reactionaries have decided they are the new minorities, and boy do they express it. For the year 2016/2017, the Home Office’s new report on racial hate crime in the UK saw offences rise by 27 per cent, with a recorded 62,685 cases. Homophobic hate crime reports reached 9,157, a 27 per cent increase from 2015/2016’s statistics [HP1] . And according to 2016/2017 figures, Rape Crisis' recorded helpline calls reached over 200,000 - an average of 4,000 per week.
Suzanne Moore reminds us just how dark things have become, where we’re reminded that police officials have revealed child abuse numbers to be so high that they simply cannot prosecute every case.
And what we need to remember is these figures emerge from cases that are actually reported - how many cases, do we dare to imagine, occur every single day? The tip of the iceberg is an understatement. For many people, it’s easier to try and shrug it off or "recover" privately; knowing the process of prosecution is a long one, if achieved at all.
Where large profile cases such as Harvey Weinstein come to light, we learn just how much of an epidemic sexual abuse is. The amount of women who have come forward with horror stories of harassment and assault is an astounding show of what just one man can do.
If a woman can get by in her workplace without sexual assault or harassment, we shouldn’t mistake this absence of abuse for progress. For most women at work, her merit will come down to her appearance or they way she acts. It’s that same old exhausted feminist analogy: if she’s bold, she’s a bitch, but when a man displays this confidence, he’s got impeccable leadership skills. I’ve lost count of the times where a woman has told a joke that only a man can get away with – such edgy humour is not representative of whom she is expected to be.
The election of Donald Trump proved that not only do we accept sexual assault and harassment, it’s to be celebrated. Some female Trump supporters were seen explicitly saying he could grab their pussies if he wanted to. Of women who voted for Trump, the majority were white, and more women voted Republican during the 2016 election than previously. It seems as though Trump’s opposition, Hilary Clinton, was receiving overt misogyny not just from men, but from women too. Michael Enright cuts right through the political fog and declares Clinton’s loss as a misogynistic witch-hunt. He reminds us that Clinton’s so-called "email scandal" accounted for 16 per cent of her media coverage, four times the attention received for Trump’s sexual harassment of women. Oddly, that sort of email fiasco simply didn’t exist when the Bush administration deleted millions of emails relating to the sacking of U.S. Attorneys.
Here in the UK, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon received so many sexual and violent threats that Police Scotland began investigating the abuse. Explicitly gendered, online threats include “I wish that c**t Sturgeon would die, just die” and “Nicola Sturgeon needs a kick up the c**t”. Labour MP Stella Creasy received a disturbing threat back in 2014: an image of a masked man with the words “I’m gonna be the first thing u see when u wake up in the morning.” The murder of Labour MP Jo Cox during the European referendum campaign was more than a threat to women and minorities in positions of power and leadership – it was the victory dance of a white supremacist celebrating the return of sanctioned intolerance and chauvinism.
Yet where there is mass exposure of sexual harassment, a surge of resistance also dominates the media. From marches to #MeToo, we’ve got a lot of women saying enough is enough. Art and television have been responding brilliantly to the contemporary crisis – American Horror Story’s Cult has dropped any form of subtlety for a direct attack on Trump’s so-called locker room talk and the unheimlich divide cutting through modern America. Even Stranger Things 2 has thrown a nod to current affairs, where references to the 1984 presidential election mirror the Upside Down’s emergence into the real world. Because how can they not address the literal elephant in the room?
It’s not enough to remain silent, and rather complicit, in the oppression of women and minorities. But I do understand why victims of abuse remain silent for so long - not being believed, amongst a backlash, can often be worse than the harassment itself. Even if we are taken seriously, can we guarantee work or a blameless reputation in the aftermath?
Yet it’s thrilling to see so many speaking up. Thrilling in both senses of the word, for it’s not something one can do easily without undertaking a personal risk assessment.
This is the return of the repressed, and there’s no way to quash the enormity of this movement. Let’s hope this new wave of whistleblowing continues to encourage women and minorities to speak up, because in an upside down world where our claims are dismissed as "fake news", only words in numbers will truly make a difference.
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