Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed numerous women who were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and in other ways sexually abused by men whom they worked for, worked with and worked around, stand up and speak out regarding their traumatic experiences. These brave women have shared how the men touched them, groped them, said inappropriate statements to them and indecently exposed themselves to them.
We pause to honor these brave women and the internal strength and fortitude that was necessary for them to share their stories. We also pause to pray that healing can now begin to take place as they have released the shackles of shame, humiliation and disgrace that kept them in bondage to their secrets that they have held on to – some for decades.
In an effort to discredit them, some have asked, “Why are they just speaking about it now when it happened many years ago?” As well, others are asking, “Why did they wait until others spoke up before they spoke up?” Again, these and questions like these are being raised to discredit the women and the validity of their stories. The answers are multi-faceted and multi-layered, however, allow me to offer a few responses.
First, many women who have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted experience deep degrees of shame, guilt and humiliation because of what happened to them. Many have been told by the men, “Who will they believe: you or me?” Unfortunately, society has traditionally believed the men. The women fear that if their situation is made known, the shame, guilt and humiliation that they already feel will now be magnified because the entire company or community knows their story, and will negatively judge them.
Second, many women feel that although they are the victim of the sexual harassment and sexual assault, they will be blamed and made to feel that they did something wrong. Indeed, the women are often characterized as the initiator or aggressor in the assault, and made to carry the burden of what happened to them. This characterization is especially present in the wife and family of the abuser. After all, “My husband would never do that.”
Last, there is a concept called the “First Dancer.” Consider times when you have attended wedding receptions or parties. The dance music will be playing, however, no one is on the dance floor dancing. Then, one brave person or one brave couple will go to the dance floor and begin dancing. When they do, other people and couples will likewise go to the dance floor and begin dancing. No one wants to be the first dancer. However, if someone else goes first, they will follow. Similarly, no one wants to be the first person to come forward to say that they were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed. However, if someone else comes forward first, it is easier for them to follow.
If you have been or are being sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted at your job, in the community or in the church, I want you to know that you can come forward, and I will listen to you in a safe, loving and non-judgmental environment. As well, I will assist you in getting whatever help or resources that you need to become whole and well. You did not do anything wrong, and you no longer have to suffer in silence while carrying the guilt and shame that should be carried by the one who abused you.