Current Events

“The Silence Breakers”: On Time’s Person of the Year 2017

Time’s Person of the Year is a person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Time named the “Silence Breakers”, a group of men and women who have called public attention to their experiences of sexual abuse and sparked the “Me Too”, as their Person of the Year 2017.

The Silence Breaker’s movement had a few defining moments, according to the cover article: the first being Ashley Judd going on the record about being harassed by Harvey Weinstein in 1997, becoming the first of those abused by Weinstein to come forward. The second can be traced back to an idea Tarana Burke, an activist who founded a non-profit to help sexual abuse victims, had over ten years ago: the “MeToo” hashtag as a form of solidarity between those who had been affected by sexual abuse. #Metoo was brought to the mass public’s attention when Alyssa Milano reached out on Twitter asking those affected by sexual abuse to share their stories with the hashtag: she received thirty thousand responses in less than twelve hours, and millions of responses since.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced.”

The article explores the stories of multiple men and women: for example, Juana Melara, a housekeeper, who recounts instances of being cornered in hotel rooms and men exposing themselves to her or the Plaza Hotel plaintiffs, six women who were all harassed by the same man in the Plaza Hotel. Actress Selma Blair speaks out about how the director James Toback cornered her and masturbated against her leg, then threatened to gouge her eyes out and have her thrown in a river if she ever told anybody, and Taylor Swift tells the story of being groped by a DJ, who then sued her for millions after she complained about him.

“I figured that if he would be brazen enough to assault me under these risky circumstances,” she says, “imagine what he might do to a vulnerable, young artist if given the chance.” Taylor Swift, “The Silence Breakers”

Beginning with the downfall of Fox New’s longstanding host O’Reilly when guests of the show came forward and claimed that he had abused them, there seemed to be a revolt against the powerful public figures in the United States. The New York Times uncovered that he had spent 13 million to settle sexual abuse claims with 6 separate women, and he was dismissed. In June of 2017, the American comedian Bill Cosby was brought to trial on charges that he had drugged and sexually assaulted a woman named Andrea Constand, one of the nearly 50 women who has accused Cosby of sexual assault over several decades. Although his case was declared a mistrial, he is set to be back in court in 2018. Ashley Judd, the first woman to vocalize alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, sparked a response from a further 84 victims to date.

Apparently, the response to the Weinstein movement and the support for the women who have come forward has changed the way the public responds to allegations of assault: “In a TIME/SurveyMonkey online poll of American adults conducted Nov. 28–30, 82% of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations. Meanwhile, 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment.”

Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican candidate for Senate, was accused of assault of a fourteen-year-old when he was a thirty-two-year-old attorney. Nine more women have since come forward to describe inappropriate actions on Moore’s part, several of whom were teenagers at the time of the actions. Although Moore denies any such allegations and indeed says “I do not know any of these women nor have I ever engaged in sexual misconduct with any woman,” these allegations nonetheless played a heavy role in his loss against Democratic challenger Doug Jones this past week.

Perhaps most disturbing have been the allegations made against President Donald Trump. Over twenty women have so far accused him of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, or rape over the past twenty years, yet he has not been charged with any crimes as of yet, claiming he is immune to civil proceedings as the President. Donald Trump was nonetheless elected in 2016, even after such accusations had been made and a video surfaced of him saying he could do whatever he wanted to women, including ” moving on her like a bitch” and “grabbing ’em by the pussy,” as well as his history of overt serial misogynism and sexism. The Women’s March in the start of 2017 after his election was one of the largest organized, nationwide marches in United States History, and it clearly showcased how deeply disturbed women were that a man who made such misogynistic comments could still be elected to the highest office in the United States. There seems to be a certain irony, especially after Trump’s tweets claiming that he had been approached by Time to appear on the front cover once again, that they chose to rather give a voice to some of those whom he had abused and oppressed.

The effects of the #MeToo movement, and the “Silence Breakers” have been seen around the country. According to the cover article,”In October, the Chicago city council passed an ordinance­ requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to employees who work alone in hotel rooms. In Springfield, Illinois, lawmakers passed a measure that will allow an investigation into a backlog of sexual-­harassment complaints in the statehouse. In Arizona, pending legislation would void nondisclosure agreements signed by victims of harassment to keep them silent.” The effects seen beyond legislation are perhaps the most profound: there appears to be a shift in public sentiment towards alleged sexual assault. Beloved public icons have been (successfully) attacked, and their reputations have not been enough to save them, while those who have escaped the repercussions of their actions are being called upon more and more loudly to own up to their crimes.

Sexual assault must be recognized and treated as such: the time has come to put an end to the use of words such as “misconduct” or “inappropriate behaviour.” Rape must be called rape, and rape must be treated as rape, regardless of who perpetrated the act. On the other hand, in the wake of such a movement, it is important to remain aware of the distinctions that should be drawn when it comes to sexual assault and rape: In other words, “what happens when someone who makes a sexist joke winds up lumped into the same bucket as a boss who gropes an employee? Neither should be encouraged, but nor should they be equated.” This movement is built on the foundations of justice for those who have been kept silent for far too long, and to turn it into a witchhunt would only dimish its power as a just social movement.

“What if we did complain? What if we didn’t whine, but we spoke our truth in our strongest voices and insisted that those around us did better? What if that worked to change reality right now?” -Megyn Ryan





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