Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Speak out on sexual assault

The issue of sexual assault has been top of mind in newsrooms across the country in the last few weeks. Currently about 60 people have come out to talk about their abuse at the hands of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and now 38 women have accused filmmaker James Toback of sexually harassing them. On a smaller scale, Lockhart Steele, Vox Media’s editorial director and former CEO and founder of Curbed Network, has been fired for sexual harassment. So have Roy Price of Amazon Studios, Nickelodeon’s “Loud House” show runner Chris Savino, Fidelity portfolio manager C. Robert Chow and Fidelity tech fund manager Gavin Baker.

Hopefully these cases bring to light the fact that this is an issue that every woman and some men have experienced at some point in their lives. And it’s not just a straight issue, since the use of sex as a weapon is not a romantic action.

According to a study on transgender people conducted in 2015, 47 percent of respondents said they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. The CDC found in 2010 that 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men had suffered from sexual assault and harassment, versus 21 percent of heterosexual men, over their lifetimes. They also found that 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women and 13 percent of lesbians.

But not every influential man in Hollywood uses their power for evil. Jackson Katz is a filmmaker and author, and has created the program Mentors in Violence Prevention which is used by US military and various sporting organizations.

Comments Katz made at Middlebury College five years ago recently resurfaced and went viral.

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls,” he said.

“So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect,” he continued. “[It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at the term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them … Men aren’t even part of it!”

Add in that men being assaulted is a new uncomfortable concept to many, and hopefully this notion that men are tough and invincible and women are weak and nothing more than prey will be eradicated. But that takes the continued courage of those who have suffered this crime to come forward and speak their truth, and for law enforcement and those in power to take these stories seriously.

It also depends on the conduct of those who witness or are privy to these acts. You can’t be a bystander any longer, and it reflects on your character if you choose to protect the offenders. In my mind, you’re just as guilty if you know and say nothing.