The Ugly Truth Exposed

It took a Russian feminist punk rock group, more than 30 women reporting Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, trending hashtags and a crowd wearing black to the 75th Golden Globe Awards to finally get the message out: Women routinely face sexual assault.

The attention this has brought seems to have unleashed a platform for women to speak up about behaviours that they feel threatened by.

The data is clear; according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Recorder Crimes Victims report, in just a year reports of sexual assault leapt by over 1,100 – the highest level it’s been in seven years.

That’s a jump from 21,948 victims in 2015 to 23,052 in 2016 – with most victims knowing their offender whether it may be a friend, acquaintance, ex-partner, employee, guardian or carer.

Just let that sink in for a moment. In the vast majority of cases the assault comes from someone they know and trust.

While it may seem that more women and men are reporting incidences of personal sexual misconduct its unquestioned, a vast majority don’t speak up.

The fact that there seems to be a bandwagon effect especially in the case of Harvey Weinstein, with 30 women now reporting sexual misconduct, has begun a debate. ‘Why did it take them so long to say something?’ ‘Why now?’

Regrettably, there is no real explanation for this.

My experience suggests that education and support play a major role. I would argue that the majority of victims don’t know what is and is not considered sexual assault or misconduct, how or where to report it or how they will be dealt with if they do.

Is my story worthy enough to tell someone? Or will I be pushed away? Do I want this sort of attention?

In the after interview following Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech at the 75th Golden Globes, she reassured the crowd she’s “especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”

Oprah Winfrey acceptance speech. Image: HFPA Golden Globes website

Even if a person has the will power and courage to speak up about personal incidents, victims are made to feel embarrassed and as if they are the complicit in the situation.

‘They only spoke up now because they finally got their fame.’

Speaking up to someone of higher authority doesn’t always have the best outcome. Very few people possess the natural skills to deal with this type of a situation and fewer instil the proper training. The response given, isn’t always the response needed.

Around five years ago when I was a month or two away from my 19th birthday I was on my way home after a day at College. I was sitting in the bottom train carriage when I noticed a man near the entry/exit doors. The man unexpectedly pulled down his pants and underwear and started to touch his genitals whilst directly looking at me. I didn’t know what to do or where to look, so I just looked outside in hope that he’d stop and leave the train soon. After one or two stops, I looked up to the doors and he had disappeared.

When it was nearly my stop I made my way to the doors to get off. There were a group of schoolgirls sitting in the entry carriage. They yelled out to me so I pulled out my earphones. One of them said, “did you see what that guy did?” I turned around quickly and replied with “what?” in disbelief that maybe they saw too. They responded with “don’t worry, you probably didn’t.”

After arriving home I told my mum what had happened and she advised me to speak to a guard the next day in hopes that someone would resolve the issue.

The next day I approached a male guard or attendant at the station and told him my story. He responded with “why didn’t you do something earlier? You should’ve gotten off at the station he got off at and told someone.” I was in shock. He shrugged me off and I stood there and thought to myself, “are you f**king kidding me?”

I wasn’t touched, I wasn’t forced to do anything. But something that I thought was inappropriate especially in a public place wasn’t even important?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey recorded two in five people over the age of 18 have experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime. With a whopping 7.2 million men and women being targeted, there was an all-round 2% increase of sexual harassment for both sexes from 2012 to 2016.

Setting a plan of action to combat this injustice to both sexes is easier said than done. Social media however has become a powerful tool to provoke change within Australia, but most importantly on an international level.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey 4906.0 report. Image: Australian Bureau of Statistics website

The matriarchs of this movement have emerged, they are powerful and they have a voice: From Rose McGowan to Alyssa Milano, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep and most recently Oprah Winfrey, have all raised their voices and are united for change.

Using the hashtags like #RoseArmy, #MeToo and #TimesUp have sparked social media trends to begin the process of change on a worldwide scale. A trend that can be traced back to Tarana Burke who sparked the movement back in 2006 on the now non-existent social media; MySpace.

From MySpace, to Facebook, Snapchat and most importantly Instagram; social media has become a powerful tool in creating a solution to sexual assault, harassment and inequality especially in the workplace.

So why has it taken it so long for the world to start talking about this traumatic issue? Why are we now questioning experiences that have happened to us?

Of course the time in between when these experiences have taken place, to when they have been brought up in the media makes the world question the level of truth behind it all.

Don Burke especially, the infamous Australian backyard enthusiast – television series, books, you name it – Don had it. But why as a national community can we shake our heads at the sexual assault cases being brought up in America yet completely disagree with the accusations made of our own? Surely not Don.

‘He’s a rude man, but I don’t think he did it.’

This coincides with a key element Oprah Winfrey brought up throughout her acceptance speech of the Cecil B. De Mille Award at the recent Golden Globes; “it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.”

Regardless of your status, sex or environment, it happens everywhere.

Oprah reassures that by speaking the truth and having the courage and power to speak up about personal stories is the most powerful tool humans obtain.

But of course, with every positive step the Time’s Up movement takes, there’s always backlash.

Twitter screenshot

Sofija Petrovic responded to the outrageous comments left about Kate Hudson’s plunging dress in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, reading that the dress isn’t the issue, and the victim isn’t the one to blame regardless of their attire. “Your outfit has nothing to do with it. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, it is not your fault,” she says.

This ties in cohesively with former Desperate Housewives star, Eva Longoria’s statement about the black attire to the 75th Golden Globes awards saying that it was a “moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment.”

Men also took on the Time’s Up movement attire trend at the ceremony by showing their support wearing all black suits.

The main point to remember with sexual assault and harassment is that it’s happening in each corner of the globe. It can happen to anyone, at any point. Regardless of being female or male, it can happen, and it does.

As much as females have taken to the stage and have pulled up their socks to build an army of roses, men are needed to fight alongside them.

Charmed television star Alyssa Milano contributes to this thought by stating in a Rolling Stone article, “Men, we need you. We need you to be part of the solution, too. I think shifting the male perspective goes back to locker-room talk and behaviour, as well as education. We’re teaching these lessons of equality much too late.”

I believe that the education regarding sexual assault and harassment needs to be improved on a nation based level as well as internationally. Both sexes need to understand and be taught what isn’t appropriate, and most importantly how victims can seek the most beneficial assistance.

If you are in need of any help regarding these issues, please contact:

Police: 000
ANU Counselling Centre: (02) 6125 2442
1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Lifeline: 131 114
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636