October Cheers & Jeers focuses on sexual assault issue

In this month’s Cheers and Jeers, we’re focusing on the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence, in solidarity with the #MeToo and #HimThough awareness campaigns that have dominated social media feeds over the past couple weeks.

Our first Cheers goes out to the tens of thousands of women (and men) who have shared their painful stories to help shed light on the rampant and often unspoken problem of sexual harassment and violence in our nation’s workplaces and schools, on our streets and inside our own homes.

Although the #MeToo hashtag found its start nearly a decade ago, after Girls for Gender Equity founder Tarana Burke heard about a young girl assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and wanted to highlight the problem’s vast reach in our society, the movement really kicked into high gear last week after actress Alyssa Milano, in response to those wondering why actresses hadn’t come forward years ago with accusations of harassment, assault and rape against producer and accused serial abuser Harvey Weinstein, asked everyone who had ever experienced this form of harassment or assault to reply “Me Too” to her Tweet.

Within one week, more than 53,000 people had replied “Me Too” and tens of thousands of others had picked up the #MeToo hashtag to tell their own stories on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Later in the week, the #HimThough hashtag flipped the switch, calling attention to the perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment — the majority of whom are male.

To everyone who has shared their story, we thank you for being so vulnerable and for, hopefully, helping others see that this issue negatively affects nearly all of the women in our lives.

Our second Cheers goes out to Washington’s own Sen. Patty Murray, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate education committee, for her recent efforts challenging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to revoke an Obama-era policy that helped school officials better understand how to handle cases of sexual assault.

Calling DeVos’ interim guidance to schools “vague and often contradictory,” Sen. Murray wrote that DeVos has “caused confusion among college administrators, teachers and students across the country” and asked the Secretary to clarify her guidelines.

Sexual assault survivor advocates have warned that DeVos’ policies and vague guidance could result in fewer victims of sexual assault coming forward and push the issue of campus rape even deeper underground, harming thousands of untold victims and allowing the perpetrators to remain on campus, free to abuse others without fear of retribution.

This month’s Jeers are reserved for all of those who help perpetuate this problem by either being abusers themselves or by normalizing sexual harassment and sexual assault. These Jeers are for all of those who stand by silently when powerful men are accused of harassment or assault; who do nothing when they see someone being harassed; who enforce outdated rules like school dress codes that sexualize and punish girls as young as 5 for “distracting boys and teachers” by showing their shoulders (no spaghetti strap shirts!) or their legs (no short shorts!) or their bra strap (shocking!) as if a girl’s body is inherently sexual and something that drives boys wild by just existing; by questioning the survivors who do come forward about their role in the assault (no, it doesn’t matter what they look like, what they were wearing or how much they drank, because assault isn’t about sex, it’s about power); and by supporting known sexual harassers — especially those in positions of power — and making sure their lives stay safe and comfortable without giving much thought to the victims they’ve abused, whose lives may never seem safe or comfortable.

If you haven’t yet read some of the #MeToo or #HimThough stories coming out every second on Twitter and Facebook, we urge you to educate yourself about the magnitude of the problem and to focus on what you can do in your own life to help stop this widespread, hush-hush cycle of abuse.