Three Intentional Steps You Can Take to Free Our Society of Abuse and Control

Anna V. Eskamani
Dec 31, 2017 · 7 min read

Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and that is purely based on what we know. Sexual harassment and assault often go unreported, and as a result generations of survivors have been forced to adapt to their uncomfortable work and social environments, while bystanders either try to ignore the situation or worse — play the role as enablers.

This year saw a sudden undeniable shift in how we tolerate sexual harassment. The press are finally paying attention and actively telling stories beyond the gossip forums. Social media has allowed the survivors — whether they are anonymous or not — to seek justice in the court of public opinion versus the courthouse, and as we continue to hear local and national headlines of sexual misconduct and exploitation in politics, business, tech, hospitality, and entertainment, it has become ever more apparent and important that we present a path forward where all people can live a life free from abuse and control.

Sexual misconduct is not about about sex or attraction — it is purely about control. Sex is used as a tool to exert control, one that the powerful in all institutions have skillfully wielded as a means to express their authority, shame victims, and not get caught.

There are two culprits at play here: the abuser and the system.

We are quick to focus our attention on the abuser. In politics we are often guilty of practicing an ideology of convenience, meaning that our reactions are rooted in partisan preference or personal relationships. If we don’t like the politician we demand that they resign. If they have been good on our issues or willing to pick up our phone calls (perhaps we consider them to be a friend) then we express empathy or might go into defense, sometimes challenging the legitimacy of the victim themselves.

Abusers exist because the system has fostered their growth and allowed them to persist.

It is this very system that enables political leaders to treat female colleagues like objects, Hollywood moguls to practice predatory behavior, comedian and hotel guests to masturbate in front of nonconsensual audiences, and for women and girls each day to feel powerless as we navigate a world of patriarchs within a patriarchy.

I am inspired to write today not because of the problems we face, but because of the potential I see for real and meaningful change. It starts now, and here are three intentional steps we can take to free our society of abuse and control:

1. Abusive behavior towards marginalized people must no longer be tolerated;

2. Create legitimate avenues to seek and obtain justice;

3. Marginalized individuals must be considered as equal.

Each one of these steps are unpacked in greater detail below.

1. Abusive behavior towards marginalized people must no longer be tolerated.

Sexual harassment and assault sees no boundaries by political party, race, income, religion, sexual orientation, or age. It is pervasive, often encouraged by peers, and exists in all institutions. As we watch some of the most famous names get called out for their abusive behavior, we must not forget the everyday occurrences of harassment that takes place in offices, hotels, restaurants, and college campuses across the nation.

In particular, our farm workers and housekeepers face some of the most traumatic experiences with few opportunities to escape abuse. These are vulnerable populations who often lack access to a support system, have few other employment options, distrust law enforcement, and face language barriers too.

If we are going to take an intentional step to stop abusive behavior, it means trusting survivors who share their stories, connecting them to resources to find help, and monitoring your own behavior too. The abuse of power is not isolated to just the rich and famous. Anyone can be a perpetrator, including you or people close to you.

2. Create legitimate avenues to seek and obtain justice.

The power of no consequences has allowed abusers to continue their behavior unfettered for years, sometimes decades. Not only is there a deficit of legitimate reporting systems in both public and private sectors for cases of sexual harassment, but the inclination to do nothing by corporate America is palpable and incentivized.

Employers of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and other high-flyers used settlements to silence victims through the requirement to sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a cash payment. This is designed to remove victims and keep the reputation of the abuser intact, enabling them to continue their behavior and prey on new people. Currently, federal law allows the payments associated with these settlements (and the attorney fees) to be tax-deductible too.

This approach does nothing but allow abuse to continue at the expense of the taxpayer. Not only should this loophole for abuse be removed but companies should be required to list settlements annually and all large corporations should have anonymous reporting systems in place too.

The struggle we face in this work is that some cases of sexual assault take place in environments that have no clear reporting system in place. Whether it’s a small business that has no Human Resources division or in a setting where professional and personal lines are blurred, we must look towards victim service groups and law enforcement as allies in helping to combat exploitative behavior. This means ensuring law enforcement agencies are up to date on sexual assault training, and that we provide financial support to the organizations doing this work day in, and day out.

The debate in 2017 around sexual harassment and assault has heavily focused on the severity of punishment for the accused, and differences have been drawn between patterned behaviors of abuse versus a one-time “mistake” that someone made in their past or in their youth. Contrasts have also been made between inappropriate language and inappropriate touching or groping.

As Americans our inclination is to use scales when deciding on punishment, that is after all how our justice system operates. But our justice system has historically failed marginalized communities, and especially those who experience abuse. With that said, I agree that some cases of abuse are more extreme than others but one isolated act does not warrant a pass — we must still hold that person accountable, and ask that they take intentional steps to apologize, change their behavior, and instruct others to do the same.

3. Marginalized individuals must be considered as equal.

The backlash that women have faced in the recent upheaval around sexual harassment and assault has been palpable, once more demonstrating that marginalized groups are not being considered as equal.

The initial inclination by some in the public to call victims liars is nothing new — in fact, it has plagued sexual assault survivors and advocates for generations. I would argue that is also holds back those “less traditional” victims (like men) from reporting their own experiences of harassment and assault.

That is partly why it should not come as a surprise that so many cases of abuse go unreported, or that so many people who have shared their stories this past year have decided to remain anonymous. Their careers and livelihoods are at risk, and nothing will change unless we trust storytellers, hold abusers accountable, and create an environment where all people are considered equal.

Education is key to this. Implementing comprehensive sexual health education in our schools that integrates teachings around consent are critical to the health and safety of our youth and to crafting a new culture of equality for the future.

Electing more women to public office and supporting the growth of women leaders in the private sector will also help. We know that in many career fields where abuse is rampant, there is a dominant gender that holds the most power and wealth: men.

Supporting the growth of diverse genders in decision making roles will benefit society in more ways than one, and I feel confident that it will reduce cases of sexual harassment and assault while also lead to the development of improved reporting systems too.

I’ve presented three intentional steps we can each take to build a system where all people can live life free of abuse and control:

1. Abusive behavior towards marginalized people must no longer be tolerated;

2. Create legitimate avenues to seek and obtain justice;

3. Marginalized individuals must be considered as equal.

In an ideal world, the powerful know abuse is wrong and those who might still face abuse have avenues to stop it.

We haven’t created that world just yet, and the hardest part about all of this is that change requires a deep look into ourselves and our own actions or in some cases, a look into our own inactions.

We have a lot of unlearning to do and many of the national figures who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault are men that we have invited into our homes. They are men we have donated to, men we have admired on TV and on radio.

These men have played an influential role in shaping our culture but they do not need to shape our future.

Now is our time to get it right. But if we fail to address the systemic issues of power and control in our society — if we fail to dismantle the very foundation that has allowed harassment and assault to blossom — then I fear we will miss our chance to lead real and meaningful change.

Take action now. Every intentional effort you make, small or large, goes a long way in paving a better, healthier, and safer community for all. I hope these three steps offer a good place for you to start.

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