I have been thinking a lot about how I wanted to respond to the conveyor belt of news articles regarding sexual harassment, sex offenders, and the #metoo movement. The climate is shifting, the air is charged with exhilaration and relief, as well as tension and fear. A person can no longer go onto social media or even walk through the work place without hearing a reference to the latest accusation.
The comments I constantly hear usually go something like this:
Did you hear about *insert celebrity status offender here*? Can you believe it? I can’t believe that they would do something like that. People are just being fame-seekers. I will never listen to/watch that again. It’s a conspiracy. It’s a witch hunt. It’s not true. They are lying. What can a guy do? Every man will be afraid to even speak to a woman at work.
The questions I’ve begun to ask others and myself are these:
Do you know the full story?
Does the accused deserve reasonable doubt?
Do the victims deserve the benefit of being believed?
How do you hold the good qualities and accomplishments of a person you have revered/idolized/appreciated/respected and acknowledge that they have done something bad/reprehensible/hateful/derogatory/shameful?
Depending on your personal experience, you may have different answers to all of these questions than my own. However the biggest question I keep asking is this:
How is this current climate affecting survivors who do not have the opportunity to come out, to come forward, to say me too? How do we care for ourselves in a time where triggers are as easily accessible as turning on the car radio or tv or a passing comment by a coworker?
It is important that these conversations are happening. Difficult conversations are what produce positive change. However, we need to be conscious of those around us. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions and how those affect others.
I walked into a job site the other day and NPR was on the radio discussing the gymnastic hearings. One of my colleagues looked at me and started talking about another rape case reported, and how it involved an 8 year old girl. He said it so cavalierly, so casually. I looked at him and said, “that is not the first thing I appreciate hearing when walking into this space.” It felt like a punch to the gut. A slap to the face. There was no escaping the air in the room which was strangled with the words rape, young, denial, accusation. If I prepare for it, if I know it’s coming, I’m usually okay. To have it thrown at me when walking into a safe space was shocking. Disruptive. Triggering. This colleague does not know my experience. He does not know my history. How could he?
So it begs the question: where is it appropriate to be having these discussions? When? With whom?
There’s a phrase I’ve used before called ‘Trauma-Informed Care.’ This is the concept that one assumes anyone has experienced trauma, and therefore does their best to not unintentionally retraumatize a person. This looks different in different settings and circumstances.
Here are a few ways to be trauma-informed in a climate that is very triggering for survivors.
- Before beginning a discussion with a friend, coworker, peer, associate, etc. about the news articles you’ve read, ask this question: ‘Have you been keeping up with the news about the [gymnastic hearings/NPR show host/ NBC News Anchor]?’ Keep it broad. It allows the person you are speaking with to answer yes, no, not interested, etc.
- Make sure you are in a safe space if you are discussing this with someone. Rooms with open windows, areas where one can see the entire room. Sometimes having discussions about sensitive topics in areas where a person feels more vulnerable can make it more triggering than not.
- When discussing #metoo, it’s important to remember 3 things.
a. #metoo is a confession and it is filled with heartbreak.
b. #metoo is two words of an entire story, and you don’t know what that story is.
c. #metoo is an incredibly vulnerable movement. Those who can say it are ‘outing themselves’ as a victim and survivor. There are also those who have not said it because they can’t, because they are afraid, because they aren’t safe.
This is a really difficult time for survivors. For the first time, our truths are being heard. Abusers are being outed and the aftermath is both beautiful and hurtful. People are more aware and feel shock. People have difficulty believing. People want evidence.
In my experience, the men who have hurt me in my life are still walking around. No one would look at them and see the abuser behind their faces and within their eyes. This is a truth I walk around with every day. This is a truth many survivors live with every day. And now, within this movement, this is a truth the rest of the world is now having to accept; and they don’t want to.
The reason I write these words is to help bring an awareness people may not have even realized they needed to have. I call it trauma consciousness. Be aware of who is around you. Be aware of your words and actions. Understand that right now, there are survivors everywhere just trying to make it through the day okay. We are everywhere. We are hurting. We are screaming, albeit some of us silently, “#metoo.”
I see you. I hear you. I know you. I care.