Why Women Don’t Tell – Aisha Ali-Khan

So many women have come forward in the past seven days to reveal that they too had been groped, harassed or raped by Harvey Weinstein and day by day, the number is growing. In the past 24 hours alone, high profile and hugely successful actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have also come forward and told of their own experiences at the hands of Weinstein very early on in their careers. Weinstein’s wife has left him and he has now checked himself into a rehab facility for sex addiction.

The most damning development of late has been the outing of Batman actor Ben Affleck for groping MTV host Hilarie Burton while a live TV interview was underway when she was just 19 to Affleck’s 29. The footage is as damning as it is deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Affleck has since issued an apology to Ms Burton ‘I acted inappropriately towards Ms Burton and I sincerely apologize’. Some would say that this is too little and 14 years too late but Affleck needs as much damage control considering he has a number of high profile movie releases coming out in the next few months.

There are many, many reasons why women won’t come forward about the sexual harassment they suffer in the workplace. Often they may delay and try to suppress their experiences, at times to great personal cost to health and mental well-being.

The perpetrator is nearly always in a position of power, authority or responsibility and has access to young, impressionable and naïve victims. However, in my own experience, the perpetrators often fall into two distinct camps; the charmer or the bully.

Charmers are friendly, personable and very accommodating so that if any kinds of allegations are ever made against them, others will find it difficult to believe that they are capable of these things. They specialise in the long game and will spend time identifying, grooming and manipulating their potential victims. That is not to say that charmers can’t be bullies; they can but they realise that it is often easier to get what they want with charm and sophistication than sheer bullishness.

Bullies are the opposite. They are often in positions of incredible power and have the clout to shut down any kind of opposition, investigation or rumour against them. They also don’t discriminate against who they want to abuse; everyone is fair game and fresh meat. They have the power to make or break a person; they know it and try to flaunt it at every opportunity.

This most definitely seems to be the case with Weinstein, who, having reached the pinnacles of success in Hollywood could now employ an army of lackeys to not only procure him fresh victims but also to then cover up his attacks with money, professional success or career meltdown.

Indeed, some of the actresses that were the first to speak out about it all had had a very promising start in Hollywood for it then to have vanished into thin air. I remember watching Rose McGowan in Charmed and absolutely loved her character Paige. Then she disappeared and there were regular stories of her breakdowns and unstable mental health. Mira Sorvino, another actress who could and should have been one of the greats, also disappeared and has had a patchy career path since.

Of course, now it all makes sense.

For over twenty years, Weinstein got away with his unchecked reign of abuse because those around him enabled it in the first place, covered it up for him or turned a blind eye and pretended that it never happened. All of these people are also complicit and should be named and shamed.

Some of the women abused by Weinstein were struggling actresses or models who were looking for their big ‘break’ and Richard Hillgrove, founder of 6 Hillgrove Public Relations, claimed that Hollywood was a ‘surreal world’ and that sexual harassment was ‘par of the course for Hollywood’. These comments completely undermine the victims by essentially placing blame at their feet; ‘you know that if you want to make it big then you have to accept being groped, raped or harassed’. This kind of thinking is what has caused this type of behaviour to be normalised over the years when it should have been stamped out decades ago.

Watching all this unfold has been both cathartic but also detrimental. It has brought back a lot of traumatic and unpleasant memories for me of the time I was not only sexually harassed but also assaulted some five years ago. It also made me think of my position at the time, and how exposed I was in an isolated, lonely world as a deeply vulnerable person. My attacker was a senior lawyer for a political party who worked closely with the police, and hailed from a wealthy family who was termed ‘the money men’. The person who had sexually harassed me was also a member of this family. When I tried to bring everything to the attention of my colleagues, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not ‘piss off the money men’. There was no way I could go to the police or raise a grievance without drawing a great big target above my head.

Since I started writing this blog, many women have come forward to tell me of their own experiences. Just today, a health professional told me she had been a victim of date rape some 20 years earlier but didn’t do anything because her attacker was a doctor. She also felt ashamed and responsible for what happened to her that night.

The fear of not being believed or then being blamed for the harassment is also one of the biggest reasons why women are too afraid to say anything. A former senior civil servant told me that she was regularly pestered for sex by her senior colleagues; when she tried to raise it with her HR department; she was advised to lengthen her skirts and not to dress so provocatively. Another woman was asked about her favourite sexual positions by a senior colleague; when she raised this with her line manager, she was sacked.

The abuse isn’t just within the four walls of the workplace. Just looking at a selection of the comments made after Affleck’s assault was reported on an online news platform show just how difficult it is for victims to come forward:

‘I would love to be groped by 2003 Ben Affleck’

‘Womans should not wear clothing which is to be too tight’ 

‘if this was such a HUGE transgression, worthy of remembering it for years, then you’ve had a pretty easy life! Pardon me, flower. I didn’t know you were so SENSITIVE!’

‘He (Affleck) apologized for that? Still doesn’t appear to be a grope. Whatever. This video must be very misleading’.

There are so many more reasons why women don’t tell. But perhaps now, we can listen, support and hear each other’s stories while we come to terms with our experiences.

Author: Aisha Ali-Khan 

Follow her on Women United

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