Content Warning: We will be discussing sensitive topics that may be distressing to some, and contains references to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, among others. If you are affected by anything discussed below, know that help is there: You can contact the Sexual Violence Centre Cork by calling freephone 1800 496 496, texting 087 153 3393 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
The last few weeks have meant that there was basically nothing else we could cover on this page. In early October allegations emerged regarding Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein. These allegations surrounded Weinstein leveraging his position and standing within the movie business to allegedly sexually harass actresses, production staff and office workers within companies like Miramax and the Weinstein Company. Reports in The New York Times also alleged that Weinstein had paid settlements to at least eight settlements over the years. Further reporting by The New Yorker expanded the allegations to include three counts of rape
The film industry’s response was, in part, alarmingly calm, referring to Weinstein’s history of misconduct as somewhat of an open secret. Should we really have been surprised? As far back as the late 90s actors have been referring to Weinstein in a somewhat dodgy way: Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) mentioned on a 1998 episode of ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ that Weinstein ‘will coerce you to do a thing or two’; Courtney Love (Basquiat) said in a 2005 that ‘if Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go’; even Jane Krakowski’s character from 30 Rock referenced Weinstein’s ‘open secret’ in a 2012 episode of the show, saying ‘I’m not afraid of anyone in show business, I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions, out of five’.
Despite breadcrumbs of this ‘open secret’ being dropped both in real life and in fictional entertainment products, it is generally unfair to say that the public at large should have expected that this story would blow up. Not because it was subtle, or unimportant, but because it is just one example of a problem endemic in every vocation. People– let’s face it, men – have been using their positions of power to sexually coerce, harass and abuse women since time immemorial. And people in the entertainment industry in particular have been incredibly capable at hiding sinister proclivities: Jimmy Savile, who is now more synonymous with sexual abuse of fans (particularly underage fans) than any of his shows, was once an ‘open secret’. I could go on for seemingly forever in referencing abusive celebrities, but a social media movement has done a better job of exposing this fundamental societal issue than reiterating the (alleged) acts of Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Savile, Bill Cosby et al.
When the Weinstein story broke this month, Twitter users began sharing their stories of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape with the hashtag #MeToo. The origins of this social media campaign go back to a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano which contained an image with the following caption: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’.” It should be noted that the Me Too campaign was founded by Tarana Burke in 2006, not as a response to Harvey Weinstein but as a project to help survivors of sexual violence.
I would advise you go and look through #MeToo right now, though only do so if you’re properly mentally prepared and have a good support network. It can be a distressing read, especially when you begin to notice that the tweets and the posts just don’t stop coming. One frequently repeated tweet noted that the people you see contributing to #MeToo are only those who feel comfortable enough to disclose publicly, and that almost every woman in your life likely has at least one #MeToo story.
We asked readers of the Express to send in their thoughts to us, as well as their personal #MeToo stories if they felt comfortable doing so. One contributor noted that “Harassment is widespread in pubs and clubs in Cork when people are loaded up on drink. I have yet to make it across a bar without a squeeze or a brush up.”
“I hadn’t had sex in years, and it was drastically affecting my mental health,” another contributor began, “feeling pressured, I downloaded an app and agreed to meet the first person I matched with. I walked over, nervous, and when they offered me a drink I accepted it, to calm my nerves. The next thing I remember is waking up in a ditch, bloody and violated. It was just over a year ago, and I have to go by their house every day on my way into college.” Sadly, stories like this were all too common on the #MeToo hashtag. While it’s great that people are comfortable telling their stories, maybe the focus of the campaign should shift, as one contributor put it: “the focus is on women as victims perhaps and not the men who are harassing or assaulting them.”
How to help
1) listen to women
When a woman talks to you, and tells you their story, believe them. Don’t immediately dismiss their story of abuse because “that person was always nice to me” etc.
2) listen to everyone else
If you’re a male survivor of sexual assault, you already know this, but some men are also victims. Don’t disregard their stories just because of their gender.
3) learn consent
You should get someone’s explicit consent before engaging in sexual conduct, or generally before making any physical contact. Don’t forget to check during sex to make sure your partner is still comfortable & consenting.
4) life isn’t porn
Sex in real life isn’t normally like what you see on the internet. Talk to your partner and do what feels right for both of you.
5) advocate and engage with better education
Learn how to be better by reading people’s stories, engaging with campaigns, following our tips and thinking about how your behaviour & actions affect others.