I am saddened and horrified about the extent of sexual harassment experienced particularly by young women that is now coming to light, but the news about Harvey Weinstein and politicians does not surprise me in the slightest. What surprises me more is that others are surprised.
The stories in the news are about ingrained and institutional sexism, the abuse of power and the lack of commitment of individuals and organisations to challenge and confront those accused of harassment and assault. These issues are prevalent in and outside of places of work. They are not new.
I had the privilege of working at ChildLine which was founded in 1986 and played a central role in raising awareness of the reality of sexual and physical abuse of children. As a result of the work of ChildLine, and many others, children’s voices were heard and the culture has shifted. Although child abuse undoubtedly still happens, it is no longer denied and ignored to the extent it was prior to the 1980’s and most organisations now have systems and processes in place that are designed to protect children in their care. ChildLine also worked to ensure that the criminal justice system improved its response to children disclosing abuse. There is undoubtedly more that can be done in this area but important changes were made in the way children were responded to and treated as victims and witnesses.
It is now time to listen to women, and particularly young women, who need a safe and accessible way of raising concerns in the full confidence that they will not be penalised for reporting inappropriate or unlawful behaviour. We need organisations to take action and we need a criminal justice response in which women can feel confident.
It is also time that we invested much more into research and education about human relationships, the abuse of power and gender identities. Imagine if we spent as much money and time on this as we do on new technology? The world could look very different.
At Young Women’s Trust we will be bringing partners together to look at what can be done in the work place to protect women and what mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that they have ways of reporting concerns with confidence that they will not be penalised for doing so. No organisation or place of work can claim to be immune from the possibility that power will be abused and that sexual assault may occur. They need policies, procedures and training and some will need an independent agency to receive complaints. These measures will go some way to convey to all employees or workers that their well-being is taken seriously. If you are interested in joining us in the endeavour then please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org