During a time of heightened media attention towards sexual misconduct in the workplace, women have an unprecedented platform to share their stories of abuse.
Time Magazine named these silence breakers ‘person of the year’. Social media exploded with survivors posting #MeToo on their profile pages. Men and women at the Golden Globes paraded in black to show their support for the movement.
But will it all last?
That was the question raised at a panel Wednesday night at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as experts in the field gathered to discuss the future of efforts to curb sexual violence against women.
“Me too is a moment, not a movement,” said Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law|Boston.
“It has turned into a hijacked, non-feminist based, media grab.”
Women today may have a new platform to speak about sexual injustices, but the ability of movements like #Metoo and #TimesUp to affect long term change remains unclear.
According to Murphy, violence against women is product of constitutional inequality, and unless you are talking about that, nothing else matters.
“Celebrities are not framing this as a civil rights movement, and my concern is that the people in power are not talking about equal rights,” she said.
Journalist Stephanie Russell- Kraft agreed, pointing out journalists are under pressure to write stories that fit headlines, rather than make connections to larger, cultural issues.
“Somehow as journalists we need to cover structural inequalities.”
But it’s a lot easier to say this guy did a horrible thing, instead of connecting all the dots, she added.
While sexual violence against women is often thought to be women’s issues, men can play an important in ending systemic abuses of power and privilege as well.
Bryon Hurt, filmmaker, published writer and founding member of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), noted that “We need to address boys and men. A lot of young men tend to see sexual violence as individual crimes that were committed by ‘bad men’, as opposed to linking them to a culture of abuse.”
Programs such as Mentors in Violence Prevention open up the conversation to young boys and men, educating them on their responsibility towards ending gender violence.
MVP works with groups and institutions that have been traditionally difficult to engage in gender violence prevention, especially male-dominated institutions such as men’s athletic programs, fraternities, and military organizations.
Still, some boys and men do not want to be included in conversations about rape and sexual assault because they feel they are being targeted and attacked unfairly, Hurt contended.
“We have to be able to shift the lens for them, so they see clearly that these issues affect us as well.”
One tactic Hurt found successful was asking young men to think of their mothers, sisters, grandmothers and girlfriends in a situation of sexual violence.
“We have to get across that women are human beings. Many boys and men don’t make that connection because they haven’t been forced to. They operate with myths about women that benefit them and give them power and privilege to take advantage of women.”
Whether or not young men participate in the progression of gender equality, women continue to speak out against sexual violence.
“These movements are shaking and shaping our time,” said Kathy Hochul, New York Lieutenant Governor.
Hochul’s grandmother was a victim of domestic abuse, and Hochul noted that it could have been third generational, but her mother was prompted to fight against the issue instead.
“You can take your circumstance and use it as an excuse, or you can say I am going to help myself and help others,” said the Lieutenant Governor.
Now, she is hopeful that women can stand up for themselves.
“Women have control, they don’t have to be victims. When they stand together they can accomplish so much,” she stated.
“We need to feel empowered ourselves, and I think that has happened over the years.”
Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
Wednesday’s panel is part of a Sexual Justice Series at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.