Letter: A way forward against sexual harassment
This is an open invitation and joint statement to our community from the YWCA West Central Michigan, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Women’s Resource Center.
The recent public disclosures of sexual harassment by several well-known figures and the accompanying #MeToo groundswell have opened the eyes of many to the extraordinary scale of this issue. The unfortunate truth is the stories from those affected by this behavior, while devastating, are not new. Sexual harassment is part of the landscape that girls and women must navigate throughout our lives. It is just one form within a broad spectrum of sexual aggression that — in very real and tangible ways — undermines women’s safety, health, education, employment and our very place in society. It is the use of power and position to take advantage of people, and it is not exclusive to the casting couch.
Women can be credited with the years of work that has been done, the protections that have been put in place and for continuing to raise awareness. Many workplaces have policies. Legislation has provided some level of legal remedy. In and of themselves, these are meaningful and necessary. However, they are not enough. They are not preventive. They are not the complete solution. Others must join the effort.
Responsibility for ending sexual harassment cannot lie with the targets and victims of such aggression. It must lie with us all, especially leaders in our community who have authority, credibility and influence with those who may perpetrate these acts. And, to be frank, if women alone could have ended sexual harassment — or for that matter, stalking, sexual assault and domestic abuse — we would have. Generations ago.
We have been inspired by the purpose and courage of the #MeToo campaign. We are particularly heartened by the expressions of support by so many allies who embody the will to change our community for the good of all. We are issuing this collective invitation, especially to men. We call on everyone to more fully practice courage, leadership and action. We call on everyone to engage with one another and chart a new way forward. A way forward where boys are educated from the youngest ages to truly respect girls and women. A way forward that elicits a swift and effective response when and where harassment occurs, and that promises to support those who do respond. A way forward that uses power in a constructive and productive manner. A way forward that ends the silent, tacit acceptance of sexual aggression against girls and women, once and for all.
These are our expectations. The strategies needed to reach what we fully understand are an exceptional goal — the end of sexual harassment and aggression in all its forms — vary greatly. Culture change is difficult work, but recent events have brought us to a tipping point that holds great promise. We are hopeful this is an opportunity to make that change and that this invitation is answered with enthusiasm and a shared vision for what our community can be.
We encourage you to add your name to ours and share this information as a public statement of your intention to achieve this vision.
Sandra Gaddy, CEO
Women’s Resource Center
Charisse Mitchell, CEO
YWCA West Central Michigan
Diana Sieger, President
Grand Rapids Community Foundation