Reactions to Sexual Assault in Society

by Lauren Menjivar '18


Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Kevin Spacey. Al Franken. These are some of the names of high-profile men who have recently been accused of sexual assault and have lost their power in their respective workplaces. In the past few months, news media have reported on multiple allegations of sexual assault in the United States by men who held significant power as actors, producers, journalists, and politicians. Most people are surprised by the sudden rise of allegations, but honestly, it should not shock anyone. Sexual assault has existed for centuries, but it is only now that brave men and women are speaking up about their experiences and raising awareness of the dangerous society we live in, especially for young, vulnerable people who do not have power.

Some may question why women and men do not speak up after an assault has occurred, but it is not as easy as one may think. The current culture we live in obstructs us from speaking up without being slandered by others. Common statements that people may say are: “You should have been more careful.” or “What were you thinking going there/wearing that?” These questions can sometimes be unintentional, but it is indirectly putting the blame on the victim. Affected by these statements, victims remain silent often out of fear of speaking up about the incident and are left feeling ashamed. Recently, when actor Pamela Anderson went on Megyn Kelly Today, she remarked that the women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault could have prevented it. These kinds of statements shut the victim down, leave the perpetrator of the assault unpunished, and permit him or her to continue his or her behavior.

There is no doubt that these men have taken advantage of vulnerable people who were below them in power, but they are only a few of many perpetrators that exist in the world. This is only the beginning of justice for victims of sexual assault. Fortunately, people who work with them have taken action to address the incidents. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Academy of Motion and Picture Arts and Sciences and from the Weinstein company, while Matt Lauer was fired from NBC.

On a recent 60 minutes with U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, she asked, “Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did [the culture] do to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?” If people were not blaming the victims for the incidents and actually tried to help them cope with it, then it would be easier for women and men to speak up, and sexual assaults would occur less often.

Sexual assault occurs frequently much to people’s dismay. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 women reported that they have been raped whereas 1 in 71 men reported they have been raped. Also, “Among female rape victims, perpetrators were reported to be intimate partners (51.1%), family members (12.5%), acquaintances (40.8%) and strangers (13.8%)” (CDC).

AT this particular moment in time, there is definitely a cultural shift in how we are reacting to sexual assault. We are condemning it more than before, but there is more to do on reporting sexual abuse to become “normal”. No more victim-blaming and less leniency in punishments for perpetrators. It is important that we educate young people on sexual abuse and remind them that if they become a victim, it is not their fault. Sexual assault is a type of violence against another human being and there is no “real” way to prevent it. What we can do is say that the behavior is intolerable and people like Weinstein, Spacey or any person can no longer not abuse the power they have acquired. Young people are able to change the current culture; they should encourage victims to speak up and provide solutions for these issues. Society would be safer for the men and women at the end.