As Harvey Weinstein changes out of his Oscar-worthy tuxedos into prison garb after a jury found him guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault, we’re left with the overriding question: What now?
Does the verdict improve #MeToo survivors’ ability to access help and healing? Will it inspire other victims to come forward? Can the #MeToo movement claim victory and go home? What can we do as individuals to make these women (and men) feel safe, respected, and supported?
The #MeToo reality
A conviction of a high-profile perpetrator is a noteworthy event, yet the very fact that it’s significant is a sign that there’s still so much work to do. Consider where we are right now:
- Sexual harassment and violence is prevalent: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 25% to 85% of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
- It’s underreported: In the workplace, it’s estimated that up to 70% of sexual harassment incidents are simply not reported. The same is true for sexual assault in other communities.
- People are struggling with how to respond. A 2018 survey by the Pew Center found that nearly half of employees — of all genders — find that #MeToo has made it harder to interact with men in the workplace.
Achieving gender equity and creating safe environments for everyone in the workplace — and at home, as caretakers — goes beyond holding perpetrators accountable after they’ve already committed unspeakable crimes. And it’s not solely up to CEOs, lawyers, and lawmakers to make it happen.
Change depends on you, me, and that guy you’ve never talked to in the cubicle down the hall. It starts with new ways of approaching relationships at work and at home.
How to foster the change we need to happen
If we can imagine a world where we are safe, respected, and supported, we can see our role in the change we want to achieve. To that end there are things all of us can do to prevent and respond to sexual violence:
Check in with survivors of sexual abuse or assault. When news stories break, survivors are burdened with nonstop discussions of sexual assault and reminders of a broken system that’s historically failed to support them. They may be reminded of reporting their own assault—or not reporting it. In short, it’s a tough time filled with a range of emotions. Call your friends. Send a funny GIF. Share a bottle of wine and an exfoliating face mask.
If no one has shared these kinds of experiences with you, take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why. What can you do this week to demonstrate you’re a friend who can be trusted with this kind of information?
Learn about effective sexual harassment prevention. Prevention isn’t just about policy. It’s about understanding how to recognize and contribute to cultures and workplaces that are safe for everyone. This includes learning about power and bias, effective intervention techniques, and how to respond to common scenarios around boundaries, behavior, and relationships at work.
Ask your company and community to do more. Does your company train its employees on the skills required for sexual violence prevention? Ask your leadership team to invest in safety and respect the same way they invest in presentation skills or creating dazzling slide decks.
What about your kids’ school? Are they offering basic curriculum around consent and safe touching? We need a future generation equipped to engage in healthy relationships and stand up for others in the workplaces of tomorrow.
While the Weinstein verdict may not immediately impact #MeToo survivors, it has given us a moment to renew our commitment to a safer and more respectful world. It’s up to each of us to take on the challenge of sexual harassment and violence prevention — and to do more to prevent future Harvey Weinsteins before they cause harm to so many people.
Sarah Beaulieu is a speaker and consultant who trains workplaces and managers on skills-based sexual harassment prevention and response. She is the co-founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation, a nonprofit YouTube channel that promotes meaningful conversations about sexual violence. Her new book is Breaking the Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations in the #MeToo Workplace.