As the #MeToo movement has swept across the country, it has forced some painful cultural reckoning. Powerful men, ranging from Roy Moore to Matt Lauer to Harvey Weinstein, have been exposed for their inappropriate and abusive behavior. Some have lost their jobs and reputations. Others face criminal charges, and still others have issued apologies, ranging from the lukewarm to the plausibly sincere. For many women, the constant barrage of stories is difficult to hear, stirring up painful memories of their own abuse.
This moment also brings into relief the incredibly high stakes for women that choose to come forward. Because many people are not psychologically prepared to accept how harassment is, they may look for reasons to disbelieve victims.
Pressing charges for sexual assault is a tiring and degrading process, during which women’s credibility is routinely picked apart, and we are judged for our dress, for our appearance, and for a host of other factors. Victims’ characters are frequently derided and discredited in the process of pressing charges (one woman who has advanced allegations against Alabama Republican senate contender Roy Moore said that she was worried that her history of financial mistakes would undermine her credibility). Victims are disparaged for responses to trauma (such as inability to recall details and timelines, or paralysis or “freezing”). Such responses are often perceived to be proof of inaccuracy, unreliability, or guile, but have actually been neurobiologically proven to be not only legitimate, but indeed common among trauma survivors.
As women and as leaders, we want to take this opportunity to recognize the tremendous burden that women are carrying in this moment—through the courageous telling of their stories, in the pain that comes with having to relive some of their worst moments, and in being reminded afresh of how common assault is. We hear you. We see you. We honor you.
And together, we have to believe that this difficult process is going to make the world safer for our daughters, our granddaughters, and for everyone who comes after.