Initiatives like ‘Time’s Up’ bring awareness to sexual assaults
By Gina Scaramella, BARCC executive director
This post originally appeared in The Hill on January 12, 2018.
The Golden Globes gave us much more to talk about besides a potential run for president by Oprah Winfrey. The evening displayed just how far we’ve come in listening to — and believing — survivors of sexual assault. But the awards ceremony was also a master class in demonstrating how much further we need to go.
The evening marked the public debut of Time’s Up, an initiative to end sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. Many actors and actresses wore black-and-white “Time’s Up” buttons, and a number of actresses also wore black to raise awareness of Time’s Up.
Throughout the ceremony, nearly every woman on stage referenced Time’s Up. Oprah memorably adapted the phrase near the end of her speech when she said of Recy Taylor, an African American woman who was sexually assaulted by six white men in 1944 when she walked home from church, “She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time, is up!”
Time’s Up has already collected $13 million for a legal defense fund for survivors of sexual assault who lack the means to hire counsel. Recognizing that not all victims wish to report their assault, the initiative also provides information on how to reach long-established organizations that support survivors, such as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.
Time’s Up has also created a Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace that will be chaired by Anita Hill, an attorney and academic who made headlines in 1991 when she testified before the United States Senate about then–Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ sexually harassing workplace behavior.
The commission will come up with recommendations for freeing workplaces of sexual abuse and harassment, and will focus “on issues ranging from power disparity, equity and fairness, safety, sexual harassment guidelines, education and training, reporting and enforcement, ongoing research and data collection,” Hill explained in a statement.
In an interview with the New York Times, though, Hill was more forthcoming about the enormity of the work ahead: “If there was a template out there I think at this point it would have already been discovered.”
All that said, we already know two of the critical pieces that must be in place to create a workplace that is free of sexual harassment and abuse.
The first is a robust anti–sexual harassment policy that outlines internal and external options for reporting incidents of abuse. Explanations about the internal reporting option must disclose limits to confidentiality, such as whether a report about sexual harassment automatically triggers a notification to other people at work, such as a boss or the CEO.
The external reporting option should direct employees to a rape crisis center or victims’ advocacy organization where they can receive confidential care and counsel. The anti–sexual harassment policy should send the message that the place of employment cares first and foremost for the safety of its employees.
The second is that the workplace culture must value every employee and punish those who abuse their power. This kind of culture change can only come about with support from top executives and the board of directors. When they fail, it takes the involvement of an outside authority — with complete independence from an organization’s management or governing structure — to investigate allegations, assess the culture, diagnose problems, and recommend reforms.
We saw this in the wake of public reports about the festering culture of sexual harassment at the ride-sharing company Uber. It was only after outside investigators from the law firm Covington & Burling got involved that managers and employees — including CEO Travis Kalanick — were finally held responsible for sexually inappropriate and bullying behavior or for enabling such activity.
It remains to be seen what will happen in Hollywood. While the Golden Globes proved to be an inspiring kickoff to Time’s Up, less scripted moments revealed how far Hollywood culture needs to go.
Aside from host Seth Meyers, who opened the evening by welcoming the “ladies and remaining gentlemen,” not a single man on stage mentioned #MeToo, Time’s Up, or anything about the revelations of sexual assault and abuse suffered by women and men in Hollywood that have ended the careers of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. To be fair, some men have since said that they felt that their proper role was to listen.
But that doesn’t explain the cringe-inducing exchange on the red carpet between ABC reporter Laura Spencer and Stranger Things star David Harbour. When Spencer asked Harbour what his Time’s Up button stood for, he shrugged and mumbled “Um, I mean, Time’s Up on, um.” (The gif of the exchange is worth the click). The message here? When people cannot even explain what the problem is, well, that’s a huge problem.
Public awareness initiatives like Time’s Up can only help, and Anita Hill’s work with powerful industry leaders could result in change. In the meantime, those of us who can speak up must continue to do so.