We must demand a better response to sexual harassment

Me too.  I stand together with the women who have come forward in solidarity, quoting #MeToo, with those who have been sexually harassed.

Women who have been groped, ogled, stalked, cat-called, abused and raped.

Women who were victims of the sense of entitlement and privilege felt by some predatory men.

I am amazed by the voices who, amidst the accusations, are still questioning why none of the women assaulted or approached by Weinstein called him out on his behaviour years ago.

Or the people wondering why successful actresses put themselves into positions of such vulnerability with a controlling abuser.

After almost 20 years working with women who’ve experienced domestic and sexual abuse, I can hazard a guess.

Weinstein and those like him are turned on by power and control.

They find it entertaining and emboldening to manipulate, charm and cajole their victims, before tipping the balance into a controlling, humiliating, abusive relationship.

Weinstein bought his victims’ silence by telling them that if they didn’t comply, their careers would be over.

Other abusers I’ve come across play the same game but threaten their victim with no access to children, their own suicide, homelessness, social humiliation and no money.

The methods of abuse are different, but the shame, loss of self-worth and horror are the same.

Around 700 Jewish women are being supported by Jewish Women’s Aid each year, many of whom have been sexually assaulted and raped in their intimate relationships.

am confident that the holistic service we provide gives them and their children the tools to practically and emotionally move on from the abuse they’ve suffered.

I am very concerned about the frightening reports about widespread sexual harassment – in society at large, and also at school and on campus.

According to the NSPCC, a quarter of 13-18 year old girls report experiencing physical abuse in their own intimate partner relationships, and one-third sexual abuse.

While we can’t say whether the statistics for teenagers in the Jewish community are the same, there is no reason to think that they would be wildly different.

And, while we may be able to shelter some of our children for a little longer than others, they will all have to join the real world and negotiate these issues at some point.

That’s why we have created Safer Dating, JWA’s new programme which works with young Jewish men and women between the ages of 16 – 25 to help them to recognise the signs of healthy and abusive relationships, reflect on their own and other’s relationships, know where to go for help and support, and think critically about the way relationships are represented in the media.

16 – 25 year olds are the group most affected by relationship abuse, that’s why it is imperative that children are receiving information early, repeatedly and consistently.

We are educating young Jewish men and women in secondary school, on campus and beyond to recognise sexual harassment, speak out about it and support each other.

Only a fraction of the women who’ve experienced sexual harassment will shout out about it through the #MeToo hashtag, and that’s fair enough.   It’s hard to speak out, and there is no obligation on anyone to ‘confess’.

Rather, those speaking out together are an amplification of voices, a rising tide of women and men demanding that our response to sexual harassment improves.

We need to make it a priority to create a society where perpetrators are held to account, victims are supported and believed, and any would-be Weinsteins are stopped in their tracks.

About the Author
Naomi Dickson is Chief Executive of Jewish Women’s Aid
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