The past few weeks, it has seemed like a floodgate has been opened regarding sexual assault in Hollywood, and more recently in Washington.
These stories center on powerful, well-known men who have abused their status and fame to silence their victims. From Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore, it seems like America’s two most high-profile industries might finally be facing the scrutiny they have always deserved.
It certainly makes sense to focus on politics and entertainment because of the immense amount of power perpetrators of sexual violence yield in these fields, but the current conversation seems to be leaving out less high-profile industries that have issues with sexual violence.
While it is incredibly important to hold high-profile abusers accountable for their actions, we also need to recognize that most Americans simply don’t work in these industries, yet face many of the same issues.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, 25% of women and 10% of men in all industries face sexual harassment, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has found that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped within their lifetimes. If one simply searches #metoo on Twitter or Facebook, millions of people’s personal experiences with sexual violence pop up.
However, other than a few high profile cases, such as that of Brock Turner, the perpetrators of these crimes remain unnamed and go unpunished. According to RAINN, only about a third of cases are reported, and 994 out of 1000 of these reported cases will lead to a perpetrator going to jail. Because of this culture of silence, it is very difficult to have a conversation that discusses the specifics of who the victims and perpetrators are.
Part of this has to do with the fact that our media landscape tends to focus on a few sensationalized cases, generally of high-profile individuals, instead of exploring the average woman’s experience. It’s easier to focus our disgust on these specific cases, because they have a clear solution and because they involve people we recognize. We can fire them, not watch their shows anymore, etc.
We tend to pay less attention to victims who work in low-wage jobs and low-profile industries, though they are often the most vulnerable, because no such clear solutions exist in these cases. According to the National Women’s Law Center, low income jobs are worked primarily by women, and sexual harassment and assault in these fields tends to be especially unreported because workers are living paycheck to paycheck, and thus losing a job because of a sexual assault claim can literally have life or death consequences.
Furthermore, African American women, who statistically make less money than white women, tend to have higher rates of workplace sexual violence. As with many feminist issues, the fight against sexual assault has both a class and race issue. While it is difficult for any woman (or man) to come forward with these kinds of allegations, they are much more likely to be paid attention to if they have a platform, and they are much more likely to pursue legal or bureaucratic action if they have the means to hire a lawyer or publicly speak out against their workplace.
Not everyone who accuses someone with more systemic power than them of sexual violence is going to get a New York Times story published about them. That’s not the point. The point is that sharing one’s story on social media with a hashtag often feels like shouting into a void when the conversation is so vast and there is no clear focus on a solution. Maybe the high profile cases will lead to some sort of legislative or social push against sexual violence. The importance, however, is to remember the countless “#metoo”s which never receive media attention.
There has to be a conscious effort, in the real world and not on social media, to give victims a path to justice without compromising their financial safety net.
No one should have to choose between their livelihood and their dignity, and the fact that we live in a country where many face this choice is indicative that we really need to change how we think about sexual violence as a culture.