9 Myths About Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Image: © Adiano (Fotolia.com)


On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In 2006, Tarana Burke, activist and program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, first used the hashtag to support women of color who had been abused, assaulted, and exploited. Milano has rightfully credited Burke with #metoo, and thanks to both women, the movement is now taking the world by storm.

Sexual harassment is first and foremost a form of bullying. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it is “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature”. These unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks can leave someone to feel unsafe and insecure, make them question their self-worth. Sexual harassment evolves into assault when a person does not or cannot give consent and is forced into sexual contact by force, threats, or intimidation. Sexual assault includes anything from unwanted indecent contact (i.e., kissing, groping) to rape, and any attempt to commit these acts is also, by definition, assault.

In a “boys will be boys” world where the leader of the free world is elected despite his repeatedly disparaging comments about women, it is no wonder #metoo is so powerful. People finally feel they are not alone, that they will be heard. With each #metoo, there is increasing unity and awareness. There is strength in numbers, and together we can hopefully make change.

As a child, I was held at knifepoint by a boy, left in a room with a drunk man, made to feel physically uncomfortable by family members, and touched without permission. As an adult, I have been catcalled, groped by strangers in public places, and have even had patients touch me inappropriately in the workplace. I dare anyway to say I “asked for it” by wearing scrubs and a doctor’s white coat. #metoo

As sexual harassment and assault are discussed on the world’s stage, let’s put an end to these 9 myths about sexual harassment and abuse.

1. Sexual harassment is a political issue.

Sexual harassment has nothing to do with politics. Anyone who attacks the opposing party because one of “their people” committed an inappropriate act is a hypocrite. Why? Because both sides do it. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and President Trump, a Republican, have both used their rank and power to harass and abuse women. Move from Washington to Hollywood, and you have film producer Harvey Weinstein and head of Amazon Studios Roy Price abusing women too. That said, sexual harassment is not limited to any one industry. It is sickeningly pervasive throughout the United States.

2. Sexual harassment is a women’s issue.

Sexual harassment is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. It can affect any man, woman, or child. Men can hurt women; men can hurt men; women can hurt women; women can hurt men. No matter who is affected, it has to stop. No one deserves to be physically or verbally attacked for who they are and how they were born.

3. It is how we were brought up.

What happened to the golden days when Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet promoted family values? Politicians and even journalists (I’m looking at you Bill O’Reilly) still campaign on those so-called family values, but instead, we now have shows like Law and Order: SVU to look forward to. There is hypocrisy everywhere. Somehow, society tells people to respect their mothers and protect their sisters but entertains itself watching movies where men in power chase their secretaries around desks. Times have changed. Women are no longer willing to stay silent about the abuse. They are speaking out, and it is time for a culture shift.

4. Boys will be boys.

What woman’s skin didn’t crawl in 2016 when she heard rapist Brock Turner’s father complain that his son’s life should not be ruined for “20 minutes of action”? What woman’s skin did not crawl that same year when she heard now President Donald Trump say “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” ENOUGH. If sexual harassment and assault are what it means for boys to be boys, then America needs to take a stern parenting class. It’s obscene that these “boys” can go with little punishment for pleasuring their bodies (and egos) while damaging another person permanently. Whether it’s physical or psychological, abuse is abuse.

5. Women need to share their personal stories.

I see women using #metoo on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I see some of those very same women belittling celebrities who did not come out about their harassment or assault sooner. I also see them criticizing them for not calling out their abusers by name, even when these same women did not do so themselves. Victim shaming when you are a victim yourself, that’s a whole new level of hypocrisy. Each woman’s story is her own, and she may or may not be emotionally ready to share her experience with the world. Lupita Nyong’o said it best, “I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.” Sometimes, it’s hard enough to say #metoo.

6. Women bring it on by how they dress.

Middle-school dress codes. Several states forbid girls as young as 11 years old from wearing leggings because they are too “distracting” for the boys. They are required to wear long shirts to cover up their bodies. How is it that we teach girls at such a young age to be ashamed of their bodies? By doing that, we teach boys it’s okay to objectify them. If a girl wears clothes she feels comfortable in, clothes she likes to wear, clothes that make her feel confident, whether or not they are to your taste, whether or not you see them as sexy, it’s her prerogative. It is not an invitation, no matter what fashion designer Donna Karan says. Oh, yes, Ms. Karan, you are the ultimate hypocrite, saying “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.” Yet Ms. Karan designs these very clothes for women. It’s time to put Donna Karan clothes back on the rack and wear something a little less toxic.

7. My abuse does not count.

I find it sad that so many women hesitate to use #metoo. I am in no way saying they need to announce their stories to the world. That’s a personal decision. It’s more that they question whether what they have suffered was “enough” to be considered harassment or abuse. If you have to think that hard about it, it is enough. Catcalls, gropes, it all counts. If you didn’t ask for it, if someone belittled you, humbled you, or invaded your sense of self by touching or even referring to your body, it is sexual harassment pure and simple. Do not give your abuser the power by thinking it didn’t count.

8. I don’t harass women so I’m not part of the problem.

Not all men harass women. Of course not! However, many men contribute to the culture by sitting back and watching it happen. It’s not enough to “not do it”. Laughing along to stories or simply accepting what’s happening around them without stepping in makes them complicit. It’s more than locker room talk. Even when something seems harmless, it can have a lasting impact on a person. While women are not surprised by the number of #metoo’s out there, many men are. Now that they see how many women they know — friends, family, and loved ones — have been harassed or abused, it paints things in a different light. Perhaps now that it is more personal, an issue they can now see does involve them, maybe they can help stop the culture of abuse.

9. This whole sexual harassment issue is being blown out of proportion.

Anyone who says sexual harassment is blown out of proportion is obviously 1) Woody Allen, or 2) not a woman, or 3) out of touch with reality. How many #metoo’s have you seen? How many people do you know? Are you one of them? How many lives are affected by sexual harassment and abuse every day? Tens of millions of people spoke out in the first week of the 2017 #metoo movement alone. Let’s hope we can end the stigma women feel when they speak out and continue to fight for change.