Editor’s note: Someone asked me why I thought so many women were coming forward, almost at the same time, to tell their stories about being sexually harassed or raped. The person was puzzled by the sheer numbers and the similarity in stories. He began, like many of us, to form the opinion that this can’t be true. How could this be going on and we not know about it? How come they took so long to come forward? Why now? And without much hesitation, I responded: “Even in our pain, we, women, find strength in our unity.”
Dear men and women,
I’ve been a mixed bag of emotions listening to the stories of women who are now coming forward to talk about their experiences dealing with sexual harassment. I’ve had feelings of joy because of their bravery, feelings of disgust towards those who have taken advantage of them, and even more so, feelings of anger towards the people who continuously blame the victim (like, for real, what is wrong with you people!). I’ve also felt a great sense of peace, knowing that this is the time. This is the time to lend our voice, to support one another, to confess our sins and to ask for forgiveness. This is our time, I believe, to peel back the layers and deal with our nasty truths: we have failed.
And so today, I wanted to share a few thoughts on ways we can act when we hear about, read about, or learn about another woman’s painful story.
Listen. Listen in a different way. Listen without a predetermined mindset and without prejudice. Listen wholeheartedly as if the person that’s speaking was your child.
Don’t make the story about you. Even if the person is talking about you, don’t take on the burden of blame at the moment. The story is about the person who is telling it. You can deal with your own guilt at a later time.
Don’t offer ways you would have handled the incident. That’s irrelevant and probably not even the truth. Fear sometimes paralyzes us. Consider, for the moment, that the person who experienced this terrible act did what they thought was best at the time.
Embrace them for their courage. It’s not easy talking about painful memories or experiences we have bookmarked with shame or guilt. Acknowledge their bravery. They will need it in the days to come as they move through their trauma.
If you don’t have anything to offer, don’t say anything at all. There’s no need for filler statements. Life has already taken care of that. This is a time for healing. Give them that chance.
To my sisters near and far – I believe you. Stand up, speak out and move towards the light.