When the news on Harvey Weinstein first broke, like much of the world, I was thoroughly disgusted. But I went on with my day without thinking much about its implications. I suppose the negligible impact that Donald Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape ended up having in the scheme of things triggered my brain to assume the same would come of the Weinstein revelations.
As the days wore on and the story continued to unfold – eventually prompting scores of women to come forward with allegations about dozens of other public figures in the span of just weeks – the conversation and this #MeToo moment finally caught up to me.
I was sexually assaulted for the first time at the age of 4. Over a period of approximately two years, I was repeatedly touched, probed, and nearly raped by a distant cousin who was then in his late sixties. And until today, I could count on one hand how many people I had ever shared this trauma with. The first time I told anyone, I was in my twenties. I was shaking the entire time I recounted my memories – and I have felt deep shame in the sharing each time I have done so since then. When I heard he passed away, I was both relieved and worried and then again ashamed that I may have put other young girls and women at risk because I failed to come forward.
Today, something has changed. It's something in the air, almost palpable, that has shifted the way I look at that time in my life – and the many times since then when a man put his hands or his body on me uninvited. For every indelible memory I have relived in the past month or so, I have found myself surprised by some other that I had years ago buried in the recesses of my mind, only to have it suddenly, unexpectedly burst into my consciousness again. And as each new household name has made headlines and and suffered the consequences at last for new and old transgressions, I have arrived at a new understanding: these cases of abuse of power and preying on the vulnerable are both wrong and all too common. And we can do something about them.
For me, the biggest shift has been around the shame. What was once a constant burden and dark shadow over all the most important relationships in my life has suddenly lifted. The bravery of so many women coming forward to tell their stories – the taking down of so-called icons of industry, the arts and politics – has made me feel this terrible sisterhood (and in some cases, brotherhood) can empower each of us to make change.
The big question for all of us is, how?
Dialogue: Around our kitchen tables, in locker rooms, schools, water coolers
We cannot allow ourselves to let each new case of sexually predatory behavior – from Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, from Al Franken to John Conyers, from Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer – to fade into the background or meld into a single scandal. We need to believe these women and men who have come forward, and we need to continue to encourage them to share their experiences.
Accountability: Systems through which sexual predators must answer for abuses
Whether this takes place in the workplace or in our communities, it's not enough to wag our fingers, and it's unacceptable to excuse these predators for the worst versions of themselves simply because they may have done good in other areas of their lives, as some women tried to do for Bill Clinton. And certainly taxpayer dollars should never be used to quiet those who raise the alarm on lawmakers or their staff. Mandatory sexual harassment training should be a given -- everywhere, including at the highest levels of industry and goverment. And there should be protections for whistleblowers and the belief that those who come forward deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Calling it what it is
The words we use to describe what's transpired --"misconduct" or "misbehavior" seem too soft a description. They have the ring of "boys will be boys," the feel of let's just let this go away. What we're talking about are intentional, predatory actions against victims the perpetrator thought he or she could intimidate into quiet compliance.
Take the politics out
Every time someone on either side of the aisle makes these stories about party and politics, we are minimizing the seriousness of the allegations and inadvertently normalizing these cases overall.
It's clear we have a lot of soul searching to do as a nation, and these are just some first steps we can commit to together. But we can and should start someplace.
There are times when I wonder if the cry for and movement toward greater accountability over the last two months will take their toll at the ballot box. I wonder if it would have made a difference, were this 2016. Maybe not. And the 13 women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct or harassment have yet to see any justice. Their stories have been cast by the White House -- and the president -- as complete fabrications despite evidence to the contrary. All of them.
It certainly remains to be seen how we hold the highest office in the land accountable on an issue that has shown itself to be both stunningly pervasive and ultimately damaging to our society overall.
Even in these dark times, though, I find hope: we've reached a moment when my sisters may finally be free of feeling shame and guilt, when they can rid themselves of the burden of silence, and step forward into the sunlight.