Published On: Tue, Apr 3rd, 2018

How campaigns like #MeToo are encouraging more victims to report sexual assault

Hollywood has been known for a great many things, but it is clear that 2017-2018 will be most remembered for the high profile sexual assault and harassment claims made against some of the biggest industry moguls, including Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. This has prompted discussions outside of the remit of Hollywood, with all sectors and industries no longer being protected by a culture of fear. The result is that many more rape victims are coming forward to report cases of sexual assault and harassment, confident that the new focus on exposing such breaches of freedom will no longer be swept under the carpet, but tackled head on and the appropriate action taken.

The Facts

It is difficult to determine if the number of cases is rising, or there’s simply more people reporting cases rather than keeping quiet, but the facts show that sexual harassment and assault are far more prevalent than many may first assume. Three in five women have experienced some form of sexual harassment and this figure is the same for transgender people. Men are less likely to experience sexual harassment compared to their counterparts, but at 44%, they still represent a significant proportion of victims. When combined, these figures show that sexual assault, abuse and harassment are actually experienced by a majority rather than a minitory.

A Downward Spiral

It is also important to acknowledge that the long term effects caused by sexual assault and harassment, as these last far longer than the initial incident and in many cases, are far more painful and detrimental to quality of life. Statistics show that many victims go on to experience depression, anxiety and even experience suicidal thoughts as a direct result of their traumatic experiences. In particularly violent situations, cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can completely engulf the life of the victim, causing them to withdraw from society, family and friends. Jobs can be lost, relationships can breakdown and health can deteriorate. Many often end up suffering in silence, afraid to ask for help.

Their Time is Up

Often, those campaigns that have the most impact are those which aren’t planned, are bold and brave, and capture the hearts and minds of people across the globe. The #MeToo campaign which went viral across many countries is a classic example, spurred on by the stories coming out of Hollywood from many victims who claimed to have experienced assault, harassment or abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. This was promptly followed by the #TimesUp campaign, which was masterminded by Oprah Winfrey as part of her heartfelt Golden Globe Awards speech. The resulting momentum and continued progression of this narrative is encouraging more and more people to come forward and report cases of assault, abuse and harassment, no matter how long ago they occurred. Changing perceptions, greater accountability and less tolerance for unsavoury behaviour means that sexaul assault, abuse and harassment are now much higher on the agenda for institutions, associations, businesses and groups across many sectors, countries and communities.

4 in 5

Alarmingly, figures suggest that as many as 4 in 5 women have received some form of unwanted attention, harassment or abuse at some point in their lives. Sadly, the prevalence of fear that victims would not be believed if they came forward has meant that many continued to suffer in silence in recent year, rather than face being ridiculed or attacked for telling the truth.

What is encouraging is that these high profile campaigns seem to be forcing the tide to turn and with the whole world focusing their attention on this sensitive but devastating issue, there is hope that very soon in the future, this figure will start to steadily and consistently decline.

This also means that workplaces and employers are becoming much more aware of the problem and are taking proactive steps to review their policies, corporate culture, training and general communications, to make sure that any cases of bullying, harassment or sexaul assault are handled correctly, appropriately and that regardless of the status of the alleged perpetrator, victims are treated fairly and with respect.

Legal Implications

A clear knock on effect of this change in societal perceptions is the associated rise in people coming forward to report cases of abuse or harassment, which in turn is leading more victims to consider making a compensation claim for sexaul abuse. In fact, reports by The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) suggest that enquiries received in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story were up by around 20%. It was also reported that sexual harassment claims made in the last three months of 2017 were up by just under a third.

There are a number of firms that specialise in sexaul abuse and harassment claims, many working on a no win no fee basis and offering free initial consultations. This allows victims to discuss their case with an industry expert, who can offer advice and guidance about whether there is a case for compensation, but without any pressure to press forward with a claim.

Re-living such traumatic experiences can be extremely difficult for both victims and their families and so it is important that they are given as much time and space to come to terms with any potential case and are feeling emotionally ready to proceed.  There are many helpful charities and organisations that can provide much needed access to counsellors, support groups and therapists, who can work with victims to help them mentally break free from the effects of any abuse or assault. Often speaking to these charities is a vital first move, as it offers a safe space to open up about feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions, however irrational, with people who completely understand the challenges a victim may be facing, and can offer help and advice in a gentle, caring and non-judgemental manner.

The tide is turning and there appears to be permanent shifts taking place across many areas of business and life when it comes to society as a whole turning a blind eye to cases of bullying, abuse and assault. Thanks to the brave actions of a few men and women who had the courage to stand up and speak about their experiences, many more victims will now feel strong enough to report cases to the authorities, to seek support from friends, families and charities, and where appropriate, gain compensation for the suffering they have caused as the direct result of their attacker’s actions.

Author: Emerald Bambridge

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