As part of our #WEWILL campaign, hundreds of women have bravely come forward with their stories of sexual harassment or assault. But why do we need to share?
Last week, we launched our #WEWILL campaign with This Mum Runs, asking people to pledge to make changes so that all women can run without fear. In the lead up to this, we asked our audience to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault and were flooded with stories from brave women online, for which we were extremely grateful.
But we mustn’t overlook the emotional toll that sharing these stories takes, both on the people who tell them and the people who read them. Not everybody feels comfortable sharing their experiences and some of our readers have expressed concern that speaking out may discourage other women from running, spreading fear instead of solidarity.
So, to thank those who continue to share their experiences despite the stigma that it brings, we thought we’d explain why we think it’s vital that we speak up about harassment and assault.
In 2019, a Stanford University sexual assault survivor previously referred to by the media as ‘Emily Doe’ identified herself as Chanel Miller and for the first time put a real name to her incredibly powerful victim statement. Her assaulter was Brock Turner, and everybody knew his name. Everybody knew him as a successful college swimmer, which allowed the media to share biased reports on the incident that listed his swimming achievements on the same page as the graphic details of Miller’s sexual assault.
In coming forward and identifying herself as the nameless victim, Miller challenged the way the case was perceived. Knowing Brock Turner’s name, achievements and ambitions had allowed the public and, in the end, the judge to sympathise with him, and he served just six months in prison despite being convicted of sexual assault and attempted rape. He spent less time in jail than we’ve spent under UK lockdown.
The judge was eventually removed from office due to widespread criticism of his leniency, and Chanel Miller had joined a revolution. The #MeToo movement was in full swing, and women everywhere were speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. In sharing their stories, these women became names rather than numbers and started about dismantling a system that blames victims and sympathises with perpetrators. Miller stepped out of her role as Brock Turner’s victim and showed herself as the woman she is: intelligent and capable, worthy of empathy and full of far more of the ‘potential’ that let her attacker off so lightly.
We’ve already seen the impact that Sarah Everard’s tragic death has had on reigniting this conversation. People started demanding justice for previously overlooked victims such as Blessing Olusegun, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. Men started acknowledging the impact of seemingly harmless actions that, in fact, had been intimidating women throughout history. And they started pledging, with campaigns like ours, to make change.
This is the impact that speaking out has. Yes, it can be overwhelming to see the sexual harassment and assault that plagues our lives as women replicated over and over again online, but by adding more voices to this previously faceless trauma that we experience, we’re beginning to be heard loud and clear.
Women shouldn’t have to be silent victims. Women should be able to make noise, be seen and take up space. In our honesty with the men and other women around us, we create empathy that’s hard to ignore and encourages positive action. Let’s keep telling our stories, exposing sexual harassment and violence as the rife disease that it is, until it becomes impossible to ignore.
If you’re a victim of sexual harassment or assault then you can find our guide to seeking support here. If you’d like to support our #WEWILL campaign and make your own pledge for women’s safety, click here.