The way that America’s media and Americans’ attention span works it will likely be another couple or few weeks that everyone is fascinated by all the sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and child sex abuse stories popping up every day. Because the Harvey Weinstein story caught fire journalists started looking for more stories like it and there were women and some men who had been victims of assault who started to realize that maybe for the first time in their lives and in our country’s history they could share their stories and would be believed. So they spoke out and they were believed and people like Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and many, many others were suddenly being held accountable.
The thing is, the hunger for these stories is not because the general public suddenly cares about sexual assault. It is a result of our celebrity culture, a culture that elected a reality television star President, a culture that focuses all of its attention on the rich and famous, a culture that loves to build up stars and then rip them down. The attention is all on the famous perpetrators–Spacey, Al Franken, Louis CK, James Toback, Roy Moore, and about two dozen others–but not on those who suffered at their hands. The focus is on what the famous people did, not what their victims suffered. How many can even name more than one or two of the accusers? Likely a scant few.
The discussions raised because of these stories are about the effects of the accusations on the careers of these well-known and powerful men, not on the effects on the women and men abused by them. If the country’s attention can be held for a bit perhaps some laws will be passed that will make perpetrators think twice about their behavior. One can hope. Or perhaps, and maybe more likely, some other unexpected hot story will come along and journalists by then can only find B list celebrities accused of sexual assault, so the sexual assault story line fades into the background. It has happened before. Think of Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, Josh Duggar, and many others. Stories about them held our attention for a few brief moments and then faded away into nothingness and all was forgotten. And again, how many can name the people they hurt? Likely not many. Maybe this time some things will change. Maybe not.
Meanwhile, in cities and towns across the country there are countless boys and girls, women and also men, who are sexually assaulted on a daily basis, and they don’t get headline stories in the New York Times. Their perpetrators often keep them silenced through threats and intimidation. As many as one in three girls and one in five or six boys is sexually abused before the age of eighteen. There is approximately one rape every two minutes in this country. One rape every two minutes. It is not just the rich and powerful who commit these acts. It is an epidemic that reaches every layer of this society.
We cannot let this moment pass. We need to shift the discussion from the perpetrators to the victims and survivors. We need to shift the focus from the sensationalized headlines of the famous falling from grace to the needs of those who are rising out of shame and fear. We need to pass laws like the Child Victims Act and Erin’s Law in every state and at the national level. We need to take care of those who have been victimized and work hard to make sure there are no further victims. We owe it to each other. We have let this behavior go for far too long.
While these salacious stories of the powerful have brought attention to the issues of assault and harassment we need for the attention to help cause a fundamental shift in our thinking about behavior and the culture in which we live. If it doesn’t, thousands upon thousands more voices will be silenced than the dozens that have recently spoken.