An Open Letter: Why we all need to #shoutup about sexual harassment

Dear Reader,

Firstly, I’m going to assume you are aware of the media storm that is Harvey Weinstein. Secondly, I’d like to show solidarity with the incredibly brave women who have spoken out against him. And thirdly, I’d like to talk about why the aforementioned women should never have had to speak out in the first place.

According to a YouGov survey from 2016, 79% of women have experienced inappropriate comments, unwanted touching or groping. Whilst this statistic might leave some of you feeling uneasy, for me: it beggars belief. Why? Because, recently, I was sat in a room where everyone had experienced inappropriate comments, unwanted touching or groping. Of course, I’m aware of the fact that a group of 15 or so women does not compare with 850 or so survey participants. However, it does leave me wondering what we’re going to do about it.

You might have noticed my use of the word ‘we’re.’ That was deliberate. Because responsibility should never be placed upon the shoulders of the victim. It should be placed on everyone else. Of course, I welcome the use of the #metoo hashtag. I welcome an environment that has given victims the confidence to shout up about their experiences. In both of these instances, the victims are utilising their own agency – they are choosing to join the narrative.

What I don’t welcome? Campaigns like Ask for Angela; like asking for an Angel Shot; like wearing anti-rape nail polish/underwear/clothes. Why? Because, in every instance, the responsibility is (wrongfully) placed upon the shoulders of the victim. Although well intentioned, and I don't doubt the nature of the intent for one minute, all of these campaigns contribute to victim-blaming.

Picture the scene: a young woman is (rightfully) celebrating her 18th birthday at a popular nightclub. She has utilised her (rightful) agency and is (rightfully) wearing a short dress. She goes to the bar to (rightfully) order a drink and her bottom is (wrongfully) squeezed by a complete stranger. This girl is quite understandably upset: her privacy has been invaded; her agency has been taken away; her body has been touched without her consent. So, why on earth should it be up to her to have to shout up about it? What about the 15 or so other people standing at the bar? The person who served her? Surely, someone must have witnessed this act of sexual assault.

Which brings me back to my first point: Harvey Weinstein. Surely, someone must have witnessed the countless acts of both sexual harassment and sexual assault. So, why on earth was it up to the victims to shout up about it? The narrative needs to change.

Thankfully, it is starting to. Campaigns such as South Yorkshire’s Know The Line, Missoula’s Make Your Move and Newcastle’s Shout-Up! on which Crystlsd are partners, are working to embed a collective responsibility; our venues, bars, pubs, clubs, transport companies and our society should be shouting up for victims. Laura Rothwell, who is working on the Shout-Up! campaign, explains: “We're working with the staff and management of bars and pubs; training them to recognise, identify, intervene, listen and support” the victim in an instance of sexual harassment and/or assault, and to "create a culture and a space that does not allow sexual harassment to go unchallenged."

This, my dear reader, is how it should be. So, I’m writing this open letter (read: rant) as a means of encouraging you all to shout up. You don’t necessarily have to challenge the perpetrator directly, intervening may not always be safe. But, you might want to alert a figure of authority (the police/the bar worker/the train guard); you might want to speak to the victim, listen to them and ask if there is anything they would like you to do about what you saw.

Whatever it is you choose to do, please don’t turn a blind eye to it. Don’t normalise wrongful behaviour. Choose to shout up.

From, #metoo