I was 7, maybe 8. Our usual sitter was busy that night so my parents had a neighbourhood boy, one I barely knew, babysit for my brother and I. My brother and I were watching TV downstairs when the babysitter, who was probably about 14 at the time, called me upstairs. Obediently, I went.
“Do you want to see something cool?” he asked me. I don’t remember what I responded but I do remember him dropping his pants and asking me if I wanted to touch it.
I said no. He asked if I was sure. I was sure. I knew what was happening was not okay. I knew it was wrong. Why didn’t he? How couldn’t he?
I went back downstairs to watch GI Joe with my brother as if nothing happened.
It took weeks to tell my mother. I remember where I was sitting in the kitchen (chair closest to the cereal cupboard). I remember the state of the table (newspapers everywhere). I remember what I was eating (cereal) and I remember no one else was around. I remember the dead silence that preceded the words coming out of my mouth and the fear of everything changing the minute they came out. What would my mom say? What would she do? Did I do anything wrong? Should I have responded differently?
I felt sick to my stomach. I was at the table in my own house, surrounded by the comfort of familiarity, in front of my mother. There was no better scenario in which to feel supported and comfortable sharing what happened. But I was petrified, filled with self-doubt, and totally embarrassed.
He never babysat for us again. Beyond that, not much happened. It was the 1980s. Shit like that was swept under the rug and dealt with in whispers, if dealt with at all.
Fast forward to 2015, when the Gomeshi news started to spread. My Twitter feed was filled with media types who were hinting at why he took a leave from his job before we knew it was forced. “It will come as a shock to a lot of people, but it will not at all be a surprise to many of us.” There were so many people who knew he was a pig. So many people who enabled such a low life to perpetuate his vile behaviour and abuse women. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked that someone whose power dwarfs Gomeshi’s was similarly enabled, and that now people are all coming out of the shadows expressing their horror at his behaviour.
It comes as a shock to many of us, but not to most of them, it seems, that Harvey Weinstein was a predator. People knew. Everyone knew. “Hollywood’s open secret” it’s been called. That men like that are this enabled, that the culture of silence is that great, that so many women are abused while people stand idly by and allow it to happen, that this was a terribly well-known secret is as big a crime as Weinstein’s. Possibly worse. They could have stopped it years ago. They didn’t, and in doing so, this man was free to terrorize many more women for many more years. So they should save their shock and disgust and sound bites. They knew, and they did nothing.
I’ve seen many people, friends included, call Weinstein’s victims complicit for not speaking up. ‘Oh, they took the money, they’re just as bad.’ I remember people judging Gomeshi’s victims for saying nothing. Same thing with Bill Cosby’s victims. Why did they wait? Why didn’t they say anything?
Weinstein’s victims were scared into silence by a man with endless enablers and funds to bury his secrets and the careers of his victims.
The fact is that even in the four walls of my home, in front of my mother, I found the words hard to say; not just because I was scared, but because I was embarrassed, and the longer I waited to tell her the harder it got. I had zero threat, beyond what was going on in my own mind. I cannot even begin to imagine what is like for victims of powerful people. I can’t imagine being victimized by someone everyone seems to know is a predator but says nothing; to be one of his many victims and know that people know but don’t really seem to care.
These women were victimized twice; first by Weinstein and then by the people who could have advocated for them, who could have spoken up, who were either willfully blind or just in on the secret; ‘Haha, that guy is a skeevy dirtbag.’ Only it doesn’t seem so funny now.
I remember those tweets so well, the ones hinting at Gomeshi’s dirty little secret. It makes me sick that there was a large contingent of people who enabled him and looked the other way because of who he was, and how many women were victimized because of it.
Harvey Weinstein is to blame for his behaviour, but each and every person who was in on that secret has blood on their hands, and the population there appears to be large.
Victims need advocates. They need people to be their voice. They need people to do what they can’t, to speak up for them. There are secrets that aren’t meant to be kept. Knowing someone victimizes people falls very high on that list.
Rape culture is real. So too is the culture of silence that surrounds it. To expect, no, to demand that victims speak up for themselves, immediately, let alone at all, is the height of ignorance and victim blaming. How about instead, we demand that we end ‘worst kept secrets’ and speak out against the Gomeshi’s and Weinstein’s of the world so that they can’t continue to be predators.
That’s not the victim’s jobs. It’s ours.