By Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19)
In recent weeks, the dam that kept Harvey Weinstein’s victims silent broke after decades of sexual abuse, resulting in dozens of actresses coming forward and detailing how he abused them. As of this past week, the number of women accusing Weinstein for such acts has reached over 40, with many more possibly still remaining silent. Hollywood responded quickly: Within a few days, former friends of Weinstein and his own brother publicly denounced him, he was fired from the company he started, and he was unceremoniously kicked out of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
The scandal rocked Hollywood to its core and sent ripples through other industries and social media. More and more people came forward with their own stories about the sexual harassment they experienced. While some actresses came forward about their experiences with Weinstein, others came forward accusing different actors, directors, and producers for harassing them, demonstrating how widespread the problem is in Hollywood alone.
However, the problem extends beyond Hollywood. Men and women in various industries have come forward with their stories that all seemed to follow a similar format: They were all abused by someone more powerful than them at the most vulnerable points in their careers. Recently, many people have taken to social media in response to Alyssa Milano’s tweet, posting “Me Too” if they had experienced sexual harassment or abuse in any form at any point in their lives. Within a few days, there were thousands of posts across all forms of social media as too many people came forward with their stories.
While some are taken aback by the number of people coming forward and breaking their silence, statistics unfortunately show that none of this is surprising. According to the Committee to Arm Women Against Rape and Endangerment (AWARE), 54% of workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workforce but only 31% of sexual harassment or assault incidents across all genders and demographics are reported, and only 6% of perpetrators have been incarcerated even if the incident was reported.
Such incidents aren’t often reported because of the low rate of incarceration, fear of retaliation, protection of the victim’s family and friends, fear that law officials will not pursue the case, and fear of humiliation. In many cases, the victims are blamed. Female victims will often be asked what they were wearing, whether or not they were drinking, what their sexual activity was in the past, and sometimes their claims will be disregarded completely because their perpetrator was believed over them. Sometimes, if the victim is believed and the perpetrator is to be disciplined, the perpetrator will get a comparatively light sentence, as was the case with Brock Turner. Male victims can have their masculinity used against them; they are sometimes told that “men can’t be raped” and their claims are invalidated.
These numbers are very broad and include incidents throughout all industries, so let’s be more specific and relevant to the student body of Cooper. A survey published by the National Institutes of Health polled the responses of over 600 scientists of all genders. Of the pool of respondents, 72% stated that they either heard of or bore witness to sexual harassment in their workplace while 64% experienced it directly. Twenty percent reported experiencing physical sexual harassment or assault.
When these respondents were targeted, 90% of women and 70% of men stated that they were trainees or at entry-level when the abuse was experienced, consistent with how all of Weinstein’s vocal victims were young women whose careers had yet to be established. Of these cases, though in the majority, only 37% were ever reported and only 18% of cases reported (less than 1% of total cases) resulted in the disciplining of the perpetrator.
The architectural field surveys yield similar statistics. According to a poll run by The Architectural Review, 72% of architects worldwide have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their place of work. Although no statistics specific to the visual art industry could be found, it is likely that the numbers do not deviate far from the aforementioned.
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 23% of females and 5% of males (11% of students) experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault and only 12% of the victims report the incidents to police. However, it is also important to keep in mind that the survey run by the NIH (mentioned earlier) also reported that men were more likely to report that sexual harassment did not occur in their workplace even though the women in the same workplace would report otherwise. This part of the survey suggests that men are more likely to not be aware of harassment happening to their peers right in front of them.
These numbers all say the same thing: sexual harassment is very real and very prevalent in the workforce and in college throughout all genders and ethnicities, affecting women of color and those identifying as transgender the most. But so few victims speak up, and even fewer criminals are properly dealt with by law enforcement.
And this does in fact happen in Cooper whether or not you see it, whether or not you want to believe it.
The topic of gender, especially within the school of engineering, has been brought up time and time again in the administration and in the student body. It is well known now that the ratio of women to men in the School of Engineering is roughly one to four. However, while there is talk of potentially attracting more female applicants to engineering, there isn’t enough talk about how to optimize the experience of being a woman in an engineering school or in the engineering field within Cooper. There are no statistics that show the rate of sexual harassment in Cooper experienced by students, especially female, but the experiences of too many women, including the author, in Cooper show that the problem of harassment does exist within our school and not enough is done against it.
It is one thing to point out a problem and throw statistics around, and another thing entirely to potentially address how to solve the problem. While the general problem of sexual harassment is too complicated and widespread to be fixed overnight, a culture at Cooper can be developed to make the school a better environment for all, and better habits can develop now to be carried over to the workforce and our future industries.
In the light of the Weinstein scandal, the most important thing is to pay attention. Pay attention to the people around you, to what is said, to how people react to certain situations. Pay attention when someone says they have been violated by someone else and don’t be so quick to shrug their experiences off.
We must be more aware of how society treats victims, and how society should be more comfortable supporting them and advocating for the responsibility of the perpetrator, even if the perpetrator is well-known and liked in social circles or powerful in their industry.
Pay attention to how friends talk about other people, if there is any indication of sexual harassment or bias in language or in action. All too often, certain comments are brushed off as “jokes” among friends. Friends calling each other out on violent language or actions does not happen often enough, with many often staying silent even when bearing witness to the event. Rarely do perpetrators, especially those well-liked in social circles, face any social repercussions. We must begin developing a culture of accountability where perpetrators face repercussions whether or not the victims decide to speak out.
It starts with us, here. So pay attention.