TIME has released its choice for 2017 Person of the Year, and it’s more than one person. A group of women – straight faced and dressed in black, who have come forward in recent months with harrowing stories of sexual harassment and assault – adorns the glossy cover. They are named by the magazine as “The Silence Breakers.”
Pictured are celebrities Taylor Swift and Ashley Judd, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, lobbyist Adama Iwu and Mexican immigrant strawberry picker Isabel Pascual, whose name is changed to protect her identity. The cover also includes a faceless, nameless woman with only her sleeved right arm in the frame. Her anonymity as an act of solidarity for other victims who are fearful that exposing their identity could endanger themselves or their families.
The photo alone speaks loudly about the indiscriminate truth of sexual assault. The Silence Breakers could not vary more in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds, yet their stories share eerily similar themes. Sexual harassment knows no bounds and is not selective. The men and women who have stepped forward are creating a stir, and with a surplus of evidence consistently seeping in, the public may finally be ready to acknowledge a disturbing reality. Different as they are, The Silence Breakers rally around a common cause: sexual harassment is prevalent among all races, creeds, genders and economic backgrounds.
Over half of sexual assaults are never reported.
Many wonder why allegations have emerged so closely together, with some even discrediting them as false, citing a bandwagon mentality. Yet it is for this reason that victims are often fearful of disclosing their accounts. According to TIME, immigrants, people with disabilities, low-income workers, people of color and the LGBTQ communities often live their lives in fear. A heartbreaking statistic reveals that 47% of transgender individuals have reported sexual assault at some point in their lifetime, whether at work or in their personal lives. Still, some choose to remain silent for the sake of their jobs, or even their lives.
The Silent Era
Pascual recalls an instance when her harasser threatened to come after her or her children if she spoke to authorities about her abuse. Actor Selma Blair endured life-threatening threats after her accuser propositioned her for sex. When she refused, he forced her to watch him masturbate. Immediately after, he told her that if she said anything he would stab her eyes out with a Bic Pen and throw her in the Hudson River.
Sexual harassment is not new to society. In fact, the view of women as mere objects of pleasure is an age-old thread of culture that has run throughout history. It isn’t surprising that an executive in the 1970’s believed he could get away with harassment; in fact, many of the men being exposed have defended their verbal and physical assaults as somehow appropriate and acceptable for the time. The stories of victims, now emerging after over 40 years in some cases, prove the darkness that has always existed. Celebrities have also believed their fame and fortune could keep their victims quiet forever, and for the most part they have – until now.
Between victims and their perpetrators, no one actually thought the silence would break.
A Movement Begins
A single voice can start a movement. Ashley Judd escaped a potentially dangerous situation when Harvey Weinstein tried to coerce the young actress into bed in 1997. Unlike most victims of sexual assault, she did not keep silent. In her words, she “told everyone what happened,” only to learn that Weinstein’s behavior was a “known secret” that had circulated Hollywood for years.
In her interview as a Silence Breaker with TIME, Judd said that victims could warn others of perpetrators, but there was no actual means of stopping the abuse:
“Were we supposed to call some fantasy attorney general of moviedom? There wasn’t a place for us to report those experiences.”
But the sexual assault allegations didn’t stop with Weinstein. Among the growing list of alleged sexual perpetrators are comedian Louis C.K., Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, to name a few. While some have confessed to their allegations, the vast majority of male celebrities accused of sexual assault continue to deny accusations and have even resorted to victim blaming.
When Judd went on the record about Weinstein’s behavior in October, she took the matter to the New York Times – the first star to do this. The world finally listened, and the movement took off. Victims who have lived in silence for decades bravely began to speak out, one by one, inspiring others to come forward with each tragic story of survival that was shared.
From where are The Silence Breakers drawing their courage? With statistics showing that over half of sexual assaults are never reported, survivors often feel isolated. But with more and more victims stepping forward and the help of the hashtag #MeToo, empathy and strength have fueled the movement that is sweeping the world. The hashtag alone has empowered thousands of victims far and wide to share their pain without even sharing details.
Celebrity and blue-collar survivors alike are coming together, encouraging more victims to fight for their lives and expose injustice. They are denouncing the fear of their perpetrators and their voices are finally being heard.
When It’s Time to Break Your Silence
If you’re reading this article and have suffered from sexual harassment or assault, you may also have a story to share. We want to do more than listen to your story; we want to help finish it with healing and hope. You, too, can be a Silence Breaker for your generation.
Sexual assault attorney Jessica Pride has helped empower survivors of sexual abuse reclaim the freedom and strength they thought was lost. Whether you need a confidant, a friend or an aggressive advocate to protect your rights, Jessica is here to help. We can answer all of your legal questions for free and confidentially, as well as help you determine if you have a case. Call to speak with one of our caring staff today at (619) 516-8166 for a confidential, no-obligation consultation and start getting answers.