Breaking The Silence

On October 5, 2017, “The New York Times” published an article that brought three decades worth of sexual assault and harassment accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein to light. Major Hollywood players such as Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie, and Gwyneth Paltrow spoke out about their own experiences of sexual misconduct by Weinstein and other powerful men in the industry, and the count of Weinstein’s accusers eventually rose to 83 women. Other celebrities publicly condemned his actions and supported their peers.

The boom in media attention on the Weinstein case prompted an instant surge of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against prominent men in positions of power. One month after “The New York Times” published the results of their investigation on Weinstein, five women accused Emmy-Winning Comedian Louis C.K. of sexual harassment. On the same day, “The Washington Post” reported several sexual misconduct accusations against Roy Moore, the Republican party’s Senate nominee in Alabama. Later that month, television host and journalist Charlie Rose was fired by CBS News, PBS, and Bloomberg after eight employees accused Rose of sexual harassment and unwanted advances.

Other celebrities have offered overwhelming support for these survivors of sexual assault, posting messages of encouragement and allyship on media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, where they manage accounts that collectively have millions of followers. Celebrities have taken charge of the discussion and have steered media attention towards these cases. In doing so, they have created an environment that has empowered other famous women and men to speak out both on their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment and in support of each other.

We commend these celebrities for establishing a dialogue on sexual assault. We must remember, however, that this issue goes back further than Harvey Weinstein and beyond what is publicized by celebrities.

In 2004, 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown was convicted of manslaughter after she was forced into prostitution and killed her attempted rapist. She was tried as an adult and is currently serving life in prison. Her trial took place more than ten years ago, yet the injustice of her situation only started to gain attention after celebrities like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Kim Kardashian spread Brown’s story on social media, spawning the viral hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown and highlighting flaws in the American justice system.

The fact that Brown’s story has only gained attention after ten years exposes a powerful theme that rings true in the current deluge of sexual assault accusations: stories without a powerful name attached to them tend to go unheard.

The perceived validity or importance of a survivor’s story should not depend on their celebrity. Although celebrities may have laid the groundwork for a safer, supportive environment for sexual assault survivors, we need to ensure that this environment extends to non-white, non-famous, non-wealthy survivors — and everyone in between — who may not have the social media platforms to widely publicize their situations. In short, regular survivors need to feel comfortable speaking up knowing their story will be justly considered. They need to know that this wave is for them too.

This idea is the most important thing about #MeToo. The simplicity of the social media campaign extends the umbrella of solidarity and empowers those voices that may not have otherwise been heard. Those participating in the still-growing movement represent a wide range of races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds; the movement provides an atmosphere of support for survivors without name recognition to tell their stories and their own personal justices along with celebrities.

On Wednesday, “TIME Magazine” named their 2017 Person(s) of the Year: the “Silence Breakers” who spoke out against sexual misconduct and sparked the #MeToo campaign. The cover photo features former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, lobbyist Adama Iwu, an anonymous female hospital worker from Texas, and Isabel Pascual, a strawberry picker originally from Mexico, all staring stone-faced at the camera alongside Taylor Swift and actress Ashley Judd. The image is captivating, exuding a fierce defiance rarely seen in print. It makes a powerful statement: empowerment does not begin and end with the stories of the world-famous, and justice truly must be for all.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXL.