This is not the first time we have watched a sex abuse scandal break in the United States. Not long ago, the recording of President Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women by the pussy made its way around the globe. Before that, we watched as Bill Cosby was revealed a serial rapist. There was also the Brock Turner case, where the victim had to write a public testimonial to prove that the impact of being raped was worse than the impact sentencing Turner would have on his career.
Do these scandals mean that the US has a unique problem with sexual harassment? No. Judging by the reaction to the Harvey Weinstein story here in Europe, it’s more the rest of the world that has a problem -- with honestly confronting its own rape culture.
That sexual harassment occurs constantly in European countries was diagnosed in the European wide survey conducted in 2016, that found 55% of all women here experienced some form of sexual abuse. But bare numbers don't bring a point home like real stories, and that's what we got when the #MeToo campaign begot local language versions -- #QuellaVoltaChe in Italy, #YoTambien in Spain, #JaTeż in Poland, #BalanceTonPorc in France, to name a few.
Europe’s Twitter and Facebook feeds have been awash with stories from ordinary women who were molested by family members, teachers, neighbors, violated by members of their religious communities, coaches, or bosses, catcalled on the streets, belittled in professional and academic settings and finally raped at all ages, often in moments of heartbreaking vulnerability.
After days of reading and weeping over these accounts we emerge utterly devoid of delusion. The sexual harassment of women in Europe is systemic, prevalent and remains both legally and socially unaddressed.
We’ve seen this in accounts of Weinstein’s ripple effect as they came in to Newsmavens from Austria, Hungary, Poland and Italy this week. We read that victim blaming has been the go-to knee jerk reaction here on mainland Europe.
This mechanism is the key that ignites the rape culture machine. Without blaming women for the abuses showered on them by men stronger, wealthier, or more influential than they are, there’s no way for the system to work. Thus we see that we’ve got both the abuse and the system in place to shield it.
So how do we weed out the conviction that powerful men have the right/uncontrollable natural need to abuse women?
Newsmavens has gleaned three pieces of advice from this week’s news.
1. By consistently breaking the silence about authority figures abusing their power, American journalists prove that BELIEVING VICTIMS is the first step to nailing both the attackers and the silent enablers.
2. As Cinzia Sciuto from MicroMega points out in her excellent NEwsMavens contribution, step two is to have the right argument: SEPERATE MORAL JUDGEMENTS FROM CIVIL RIGHTS.
Victim blaming, she explains is a JUDGEMENT of how a woman chooses to dress, live her life, who she chooses to work with, and when she decides to report a crime. The right to live and work free from violence (including sexual assault) is protected by THE LAW, regardless of who the victims are and what we think of them.
3. DON'T LET THEM SILENCE YOU FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. This lesson comes from Magda Karst-Adamczyk's Polish contribution in which we meet Wojciech Kruczyński, a psychologist who publically blames sexual violence on feminism, which he claims has liberated women from shame and men from the social constraints of behaving honorably.
The assumption that the patriarchal power set up between the sexes is there to protect women from men who would otherwise do nothing but hurt them sounds a lot like the manipulations of authoritarian political regimes. These take civil rights away from citizens like candy from a baby. All they have to do is scare them into thinking it is for their own safety.
Thankfully, we are not babies. And as we discover our shocking numbers, we are, perhaps, less and less afraid. Thanks for the wake-up call, America.