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Public shaming is only the first step

I’ve never had my internalized misogyny immediately revealed and crushed by a well written editorial, however, they do often provide valuable information which I can then use to better understand the world around me. 

For instance, I would not have known that Bill Cosby was a sexual predator until I read that Pamela Abeyta and 59 other women spoke out against him. The “cleverly written editorial” won’t ever be a silver bullet. Stories circulated by news outlets are instead part of a larger movement to change what we deem acceptable and abhorrent. By speaking out, people bring the topic of sexual assault to the limelight. Institutions are pressured to examine themselves and find where they may be lacking. Cosby’s three to 10  year sentence, along with the indictment of Harvey Weinstein and the removal of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, are examples of how speaking up can affect lasting change within American culture. Repercussions (or lack thereof) emphasize the values we hold as a society.

One of the successes of the #MeToo movement was to send a message that survivors are able to call out their abusers and achieve some modicum of justice. While our society has a long way to go in terms of believing survivors, it is still important to acknowledge that speaking is the first step to creating long term change. Root causes cannot be identified and addressed if we are unaware of the perpetrators. “Acknowledging predators often occupy seats of power” inherently requires some form of “naming and shaming.” Public allegations of sexual misconduct against would-be senator Roy Moore played a large role in his failure to win the Alabama 2017 special election. Senator Al Franken stepped down from his position as senator after eight accusations of sexual misconduct. Consequences, albeit for a very small percentage of perpetrators, set a precedent for future responses to scandals.

We aren’t all going to enact change by becoming politicians and writing our conceptions of justice into legislature. As far as I’m concerned, being a politician would suck balls. The majority of us must settle with advocating for a more just society within our daily lives, often using the tool we are most accustomed to using: our voices. We not only use our voices to condemn those who have abused their power but to raise up those who have been hurt by it. If an individual is put at a “higher risk” by sharing their story, it is our responsibility to meet that risk with an equal measure of support. Public shaming is not the intent of sharing a story of sexual abuse but a side effect. The purpose of a call-out can be to inform others that a person is a danger to others. Action is taken with the intent of ensuring the safety of others as well as holding someone accountable.  

Placing more abuse-conscious individuals in positions of power is something to aspire to. However, stating that people who speak out about perpetrators of sexual abuse do not contribute to long term change does a disservice to those who have put their reputations and safety on the line by making their stories public.

Henry Mai, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at HMai20@wooster.edu.

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