What’s behind the recent wave of sexual harassment stories? An expert weighs in

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From Hollywood to Capitol Hill, a wave of sexual harassment stories has been sweeping the country over the past couple of weeks.  Every day, it seems, new allegations are made against powerful men in various industries.

But why now? We talked to an expert to help better understand this phenomenon.

Dr. Arin N. Reeves, president of the Chicago-based research and consulting firm Nextions, which focuses on leadership and inclusion issues, had to explain this phenomenon to her 12-year-old son who recently asked: “Seriously! Is every man out there a sexual predator?”

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Arin Reeves

“We had a long conversation on sexual harassment vs. sexual assault vs. sheer stupid behavior which doesn’t break any laws but should be called out anyway,” Reeves says.

Not every man out there is a sexual predator, she points out, “but the men, especially famous men, who have harassed/assaulted are being held accountable in a way we have never seen before because there is safety in numbers.”

Here’s how to make sense of these events:

Q: Why now?

A: Women and men who have been harassed and/or assaulted usually don’t come forward. The reasons for staying silent are rooted in fear. The more powerful the harasser is, the more afraid the person will be to speak up and say something.

Q: How did we get here?

A: This particular wave didn’t start with Harvey Weinstein.  It started with Bill Cosby in 2016. It started building when the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed Donald Trump’s view of what it meant to be powerful when it comes to doing whatever he wants to women.

Without the “Access Hollywood” tape, millions of women would not have marched the day after Trump’s inauguration. (Former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger) Ailes was fired. (Former Fox News host Bill) O’Reilly’s show was canceled. Then, the wave crested with Harvey Weinstein.

When victims started seeing powerful men starting to be held accountable, their fears grow smaller. When victims start seeing other victims believed, protected, not dismissed as sensitive and encouraged to speak out, the #MeToo movement takes off. I think we will continue to see powerful people exposed for weeks and months to come. Through these victims’ stories, we have a way to better understand the many more victims whose offenders aren’t famous enough or powerful enough to warrant coverage.

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