I’ve been wondering about this for a while. What’s kicked me off into actually getting off my arse and sitting down to write about it is the Lord Rennard/Lib Dem Cover-Up story (link here to an early story summary if you’ve missed it).
I don’t wonder what men think when they see a story like the Lord Rennard story. I wonder what men think the victims are thinking immediately after the harassment. I know that’s like a third-order consciousness or something, but bear with me.
The reason I wonder what some men think goes through a woman’s mind after being sexually harassed is this: There are so many men out there who seem to think women view sexual harassment as an opportunity to enact revenge in the medium-to-long-term future. Revenge for what? Whatever the man in question happens to dream up: that’s what.
For instance, Michael White, in the Guardian had to wonder why the claims against Lord Rennard are surfacing now. But here’s what I don’t get: does Mr. White believe that the women involved, who were touched inappropriately, or invited to inappropriate places, or worse; does he really believe that their first thought afterwards was “Hmm. I think I’ll hold on to this to save up for a by-election when I can really do some collateral damage”?
This kind of thinking really frustrates me. We saw it in the Julian Assange debacle, where hordes of men decided en masse that the women must have been exaggerating to bring down the Chosen One. And we’re seeing it now, where a bunch of self-righteous (mostly) male keepers of truth have all openly wondered why the women are only coming forward now and why there were not more specific allegations made at the time.
I’ve never been raped, but I have been the victim of a serious incident of sexual harassment from another man – a man older and more senior than myself, in much the same way as Lord Rennard was to these women. I did one thing and one thing only at the time: I fled the fuck away as quickly as I possibly could. It was only later that afternoon that I was able to return and report the offence to someone who could do something about it. I was promised things would be handled and things were quietly swept under the carpet. I don’t believe there was any real punishment for the offender involved, although he may have had a quiet talking to, I suppose.
After that, I felt impotent, which I suppose I should feel a sense of irony over. Ultimately the incident wasn’t enough to see this man dealt with in any way. And it doesn’t feel like there is anything else I can do – all power feels like it has taken away from me. But if in 10 years I see his face in the paper with similar allegations, you can bet your life I’m calling the paper up and adding my experience into the story. Because sometimes that’s the only way these people see justice for their behaviour.
My experience is just one person’s experience. And it’s not even a woman’s experience. I’m not going to pretend to truly understand what other people go through when they are raped, abused or harassed. I’m explicitly telling you not to generalise from what I’ve written and apply it to other people.
Instead, the message needs to be that second-guessing people’s motives for publicly coming forward with rape or sexual abuse allegations is damaging to the women coming forward and to all other women who may have to face coming forward with their own story in the future. This creates a culture of hostility towards victims and makes no ones lives any better.
There are many reasons why people don’t come forward with accusations of rape or sexual harassment for years at a time, and it is not our place to second-guess those reasons. Our job is to support victims as best we can and try, bit by bit, to change our world into one where sex is consensual and women are treated as equals instead of meat.