The Spirit

Overcoming Obstacles

Addressing recent sexual assault allegations in the news

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Adam Chu, Senior Writer

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Since the New York Times reported on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct on October 5th, there has been a cascade of other allegations in nearly every part of society. Politicians like Senator Al Franken to Alabama Justice Roy Moore, talk show hosts like Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly, actors such as Kevin Spacey, and journalists such as Charlie Rose and Glenn Thrush have all been accused of sexual harassment. The sad part here is that the list could continue to grow with more politicians, talk show hosts, actors, and so on; the list of those guilty of sexual misconduct seems to stretch far and wide.
Allegations are allegations; they are nothing more at the current time. Allegations that are false, contain contradictory evidence, or are made purely to slander someone without credible proof are just as damaging as true claims. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which was founded in 2000, analyzed one set of sexual misconduct claims between the time period 1997-2006, and another set from 2000-2003. They found false report rates of 5.9 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. While the percentages are small, these false reports are still incredibly damaging and any allegations of these should not be taken lightly.
That being said, it is impossible for investigators to determine whether or not claims are true when they are first reported. We should strive to investigate each and every case to the fullest extent to ensure respect and dignity is maintained for all people. While it is disturbing to read and hear about these allegations, these are fortunately just a small part of the population who have twisted their powers for their own benefit.
Yet, these allegations draw attention to a greater concern. As more and more people open up about this issue, it calls into question what our society truly values. The Weinstein Corporation’s contracts contained clauses claiming that employees would not harm its “business reputation”. On a broader scale, many of the payouts that the accused paid out contained confidentiality clauses to prohibit further talk of the subject. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received about 30% of its total reports in 2014 on sex discrimination in the workplace, totalling about 26,350 reports. Out of those, nearly 75% of reports were filed by women.
While these numbers seem miniscule in light of the fact that 66 million women are currently in the US workforce, keep in mind the biggest issue about sexual assault: the stigma. The shame and fear is only compounded by the arrogance and perceived lack of support. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or RAINN, 2 out of every 3 sexual assault cases go unreported. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that out of 1,000 sexual assault cases, only 57 of those will see someone arrested. The CDC published the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey and found that 36.3% of women were reported to have experienced “contact sexual violence”, and that 17.1% of men were reported to have experienced “contact sexual violence”. Contact sexual violence is defined by the study as a “measure that includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact”. Approximately one out of three women and one out of six men experienced some form of unwanted sexual conduct between the years 2010 to 2012. Should you have the time to read the 272 page report, it is absolutely mind-blowing and eye-opening in terms of how much work we have to do as a society to fix this pervasive problem.
Many of these cases go unreported for reasons like those mentioned above: out of fear, or perhaps believing that no one would believe their stories, or paid off by “hush” money. The reasons for hiding such a shameful act are plenty, and they’re unfortunately valid reasons for the victims to believe. And while resources exist such as hotlines and counseling sessions, the biggest obstacle to overcoming sexual assault is still the stigma. Victims believe that no one will listen to them, especially if their attacker is above them on the professional ladder. The victims don’t believe they’re worth as much, or their voice isn’t as important.

How do we overcome this obstacle? Sexual assault is not a new topic
My apologies for the short rant on gender inequality, but that issue is indirectly linked to sexual assault. There are many steps that we must face together as a society to continue overcoming sexual assault. As the former UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said in 2016, “We must shift the shame and stigma from the victims to those who command, those who commit, or those who condone these crimes.” We must support the victims of sexual assault while increasing our efforts to persecute those who take advantage of others. And while caution must be maintained with regards to these allegations on their veracity, we still need to treat every single case as if it were legitimate. The phrase “innocent until guilty” is a vital and irreplaceable cornerstone of the justice system, yet sexual assault is in a whole other league. If we truly wish to help the victims, we must respect them through the turbulent process while maintaining a fair investigation and trial.
While these allegations from Hollywood and Congress are chilling, they serve as a needed wake-up call to the injustices of our society. And if we do nothing about it, nothing will change. We still have a lot of work to do to eliminate the stigma, to give victims a louder voice, and to further punish those that take advantage of each other. Simply put, we’re far from being at an acceptable state with how we treat each other. But we can gain a lot of ground if we were to work together in banishing this evil.
The final message is this: if you’ve been sexually assaulted or know someone that has experienced it, please go seek help. It’s available. For all of us here, let this serve as a reminder that your body is your own; if someone wishes to impose their will over you, stop them. And know that should an atrocity like this be committed at Ignatius, we stand behind you, as a Wolfpack.

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