FiveThirtyEight: After MeToo, More Americans See Sexual Harassment as a Problem, But Partisan Divisions Remain

Are Americans More Divided On #MeToo Issues? Writing at FiveThirtyEight, Meredith Conroy analyzes how opinions on sexual harassment and assault have changed since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. Using recent survey data about the attitudes and beliefs of the U.S. electorate gathered by The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, Conroy reports:

“On the whole, since 2016, Republicans have grown more skeptical of women who report harassment and the motivation behind their claims. However, members of both parties were more likely to acknowledge that sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a problem in the U.S. in 2018, compared with 2016 — so there is some evidence that more people from both parties view sexual harassment as a problem today than did before.”

As part of our research conducted by Goodwin Simon with the Berkeley Media Studies Group for Where we’re going and where we’ve been: Making the case for preventing sexual violence, RALIANCE learned that when it comes to sexual violence prevention, the messengers are as important as the message and often need to come first.

Here are a few ideas on how we flip the script and see more social change: 

  • Get granular about the journey

Our findings in the messaging guide suggest that conservative audiences “feel even more discomfort, skepticism, and inner conflict about whether prevention is possible. For these people to connect with our message, we may need to tell stories that include more details about the journey and describe more steps in the change process.”

  • Name the harm

Our research suggested that terms got in our way. Phrases like “sexual misconduct” made people think of unwanted overtures, innuendos, and suggestive conversations instead of more egregious actions on a spectrum of behaviors. If men are skeptical of women who report harassment and the motivation behind their claims, it’s time to use plain language, backed up by concrete examples. That is much more effective in helping audiences understand complex ideas.

  • Change is happening — but it takes time

This comparison was of survey data spread across only two years. As shown by the outpouring of support and criticism during and after the Kavanaugh hearings, we have a long way to go in this conversation. Much more needs to be done to engage men and boys as part of the solution. That includes moving from understanding that there is a problem to holding those accountable for their behaviors.

Learn more about what RALIANCE is doing to support survivor-centered policies and legislative initiatives!

Correcting the Record on Human Trafficking

With the recent arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in Florida as part of a broader law enforcement sting operation, and challenging issues involving human trafficking and sexual exploitation were thrust back into the public spotlight.

Human trafficking is a serious and widespread problem that impacts thousands of people across the United States and the world. Women of color, transgender people, children and other marginalized populations are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Although the recent news has prompted an important dialogue about trafficking, it has also revealed widespread public misconceptions about the issue. Here are three things everyone should know about human trafficking:

Human trafficking is a form of sexual violence.

The behaviors that comprise sexual violence exist on a spectrum, from sexual harassment to violent assault. When individuals who are underage and/or unable to choose are forced into sex work without their consent, that is inarguably a form of sexual violence. Like all forms of sexual violence, the victims of trafficking deserve support and are never to blame. Serious cases like this one aren’t fodder for jokes or trash talk between rival sports fans. Reports of sex trafficking increase each year in the United States, and rates of trafficking frequently rise in conjunction with major sporting events which draw large crowds and increase demand for sex.

All of us have a role to play in helping to end trafficking, which can occur right in front of us in plain sight — on streets, in hotels and motels, at truck stops and airports, in restaurants and massage parlors, and in our own neighborhoods.

Sexual exploitation should NEVER be for sale.

There are important distinctions when we talk about human trafficking. Trafficking victims are exploited and forced into actions without their consent. Human traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to manipulate adult victims into engaging in commercial sex acts in exchange for money, debt repayment, or something of value. According to the U.S. Department of Human Services, individuals, circumstances, and situations vulnerable to traffickers include homeless individuals, runaway teens, displaced people, refugees, foreign workers on visas, migrant workers, international and domestic job seekers, foreign nationals looking for better life opportunities in the United States, children and adolescents, people with drug addictions.

There is a power dynamic that must be acknowledged whereby consent and choice are taken from trafficked individuals. Conflating sexual exploitation with  prostitution is disturbingly common in public discourse, a trend that only serves to reinforce the stigma sex workers face while simultaneously minimizing the harm to trafficking victims by diminishing the impact of their exploitation.

Ending trafficking requires systemic change and holding the powerful accountable.

While individual cases can serve as important moments to focus the public’s attention on this important issue, no one law enforcement action can end systemic problems. Instead, we must keep the focus on the broader cultural factors that enable sex trafficking. Trafficking is driven by supply and demand: the demand for commercial sex regardless of the conditions, treatment, and well-being of those involved leads traffickers to commit serious crimes and violate the consent and dignity of their victims, all in an effort to provide a sufficient supply to meet the demand. Both the traffickers and those driving demand and supporting the industry must be held accountable.

Leaders of organizations like sports teams, Fortune 500 companies, or political offices have a particularly important role to play. Organizations can and should hold every member of their staff accountable for actions that violate organizational values and their code of conduct. Leaders also set an example for members of their organization and the general public to follow that by not participating in the commercial sex industry, they can reduce the demand for sex trafficking.

For more information about human trafficking, please visit NSVRC’s toolkit on Sexual Assault Response.

The Human Trafficking National Hotline [is 1-888-373-7888.

The Art of an Apology: What the Catholic Church continues to get wrong on sexual abuse

With the Catholic Church convening last week for a historic summit on sexual abuse, one might be tempted to think that finally, one of the world’s largest and most powerful organizations is taking responsibility and addressing the systemic failures that enabled the sexual abuse suffered by thousands at the hands of clergy members all around the world.

But as advocates for sexual abuse prevention and for the survivors of these horrific crimes, the Church’s decades-long response as story after story has come to light has been woefully insufficient.

Until the Church apologizes, fully and without qualification, for years of covering up and enabling abuse, it will fall far short of its mission. It is not enough to simply say mistakes have been made. There must be an expression of regret for the ways in which perpetrators have been given free access to vulnerable people across the communities, leading the systemic abuse of women and children. Atrocities and perpetrators must be named, including those who colluded with perpetrators and covered the crimes to protect the institution, and concrete action steps must be taken to prevent these crimes from ever happening again. A pledge that cases will be handled internally is insufficient and only reinforces the culture of secrecy that has enabled the abuse; clear and transparent protocols should be put in place for reporting sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse to an outside entity that is accountable to survivors.

Faced with the staggering scale of the crimes perpetuated under the Church’s watch, an apology seems like the bare minimum. And yet, even as the Church has begun to acknowledge and grapple with the damage that decades of abuse has wrought, it has been in half-measures, rather than a complete accounting.

Researchers have found six components of an effective apology. Here, instead, is what the Church could have done, should have done, and must do in the future to communicate their apology and do right by the survivors of sexual abuse:

“We are deeply sorry to every single person who has suffered abuse at the hands of one of our leaders, in whom they placed their valuable trust.”

“For too long, we as a Church have prioritized secrecy and protecting our own over uncovering the truth and helping prevent sexual abuse.”

“We are solely to blame for the abuse of thousands, and the suffering they and those who love them have endured.”

“We apologize fully and unequivocally to any and all who have been harmed by our neglect.”

“Going forward, we are implementing meaningful changes to ensure this never happens again. We will work with local authorities to investigate allegations of abuse, rather than simply conducting an internal investigation. And we pledge to refer victims and families to rape crisis centers and other qualified counselors in their communities to support healing on their own terms.”

“We hope that those we have wronged can find it in their hearts to excuse our sins.”

Beyond a comprehensive apology, representatives of the Church will only truly account for their actions if they name that they knowingly moved perpetrators into unsuspecting communities all across the globe, acknowledge that merely moving someone to a new community does nothing to interrupt the abuse and only provides new opportunities for abuse in unsuspecting communities, and pledge that they will no longer merely relocate someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct.

No apology can ever fully heal the pain of sexual abuse. But the current cycle of halfhearted regret and ongoing inaction only serves to retraumatize survivors and perpetuate a system that lacks accountability for abusers. If the Church wants lasting change to come from last week’s historic summit, it has much further to go.

Re-imagining Restaurant Culture

The James Beard Foundation recently featured an article by Caitlin Corcoran, a restaurant owner in Missouri and a 2018 Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership fellow on building safety within the food and beverage industry.

#MeToo has helped foster a reckoning in Hollywood as well as other cultural institutions like the music and restaurant industries.

Corcoran describes how her experiences as a restaurant owner and a survivor with non-supportive and dismissive managers inspired her to re-imagine hospitality. Much of the issue was having tools for staff to address boundary-pushing behaviors. But the Corcoran also saw the potential in change restaurant culture more broadly. Restaurants have long been an offshoot of our local communities – a space where we gather socially and communally – and she saw an opportunity to improve restaurant culture more broadly.  

“I realized it was not enough just to intervene in a given moment at my establishment. I needed to go a step further and re-evaluate my business’s policies on safety for both staff and guests,” Corcoran said in the article.

She highlights how important it is to foster an organizational culture where respect and civility are promoted and harassment is swiftly and proportionally addressed. All too often, organizations focus too much on targets, harassers, and legal compliance. As outlined in RALIANCE’s open letter to CEOs and Boards, best practice is investing in staff so that all employees, regardless of position, are empowered to change their workplace culture.

Corcoran also worked directly with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) in Kansas City to create a training program to change the culture in restaurants. SAFE (Sexual Assault Free Environment) empowers participants to prioritize a culture where everyone feels safe.

Everyone plays a role in building safer workplaces and communities, and Corcoran’s work is an example of how companies and their leaders can partner with sexual violence prevention advocates to stamp out sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse one and for all.


RALIANCE commentary on R. Kelly criminal charges

Our partners at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center put out the following statement regarding the charges of criminal sexual abuse filed today against singer R. Kelly. This case, like so many that have come before it, is about both the individual actions of an abuser and the broader culture that enabled them to victimize dozens for years without consequence.

In particular, Black women and girls are disproportionately the victims of abuse, and they have suffered in invisibility for far too long. RALIANCE applauds the bravery of the Black women and girls whose activism has brought R. Kelly’s actions to light. We all must listen to and believe the accounts of everyone who shares their stories of sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse.

NSVRC Statement on R. Kelly charges

Harrisburg, PA – It is vital that we hold those who commit sexual harassment, abuse, and assault accountable, regardless of their power, fame, or wealth. After the extensive documentation of abuses inflicted on Black girls and women by R. Kelly, NSVRC is pleased to learn that he is facing criminal charges for some of this conduct.

This case is a reminder that we must listen to and believe the accounts of Black women and girls, who experience sexual violence at higher rates than other groups of women but are often disbelieved and face systemic barriers rooted in oppression.

It is also important to be mindful of the language used when discussing the footage that in part led to these charges. The appropriate way to refer to this is video evidence of Kelly sexually assaulting a minor. Recognizing that legally, a minor cannot consent to any sexual activity, this footage is not a “sex tape,” nor a “having sex with a minor” but rather evidence of a crime.

When we replace “The best men can get” with “The best men can be.”

For many young men, learning to shave can often feel like a rite of passage and a sign of physical maturity. While much has been written about the negative impact of sexualized and derogatory advertising on women and girls, advertising can also influence how young men view masculinity. Razor manufacturer Gillette’s new ad has sparked an important conversation about addressing problematic masculinity head-on.

“By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come,” Gillette president Gary Coombe said in a company press release about the ad.

Through the ad, Gillette celebrates healthy masculinity and offers an important reminder that ending sexual violence in one generation will require everyone—including boys and men—to practice safety, respect and equality in our everyday situations.

What’s more is that Gillette’s bold decision to publicly champion these values through an ad speaks to the responsibility that companies have in creating change and demonstrating that prevention is possible. Organizations looking to join this important cultural movement should take note of three steps that Gillette took when launching this ad:

Review advertising and branding standards  – Gilette announced that it will be reviewing its public-facing content—ads, images, and words— to ensure their standards fully reflected “the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modelling.”

Champion social responsibility – Gillette has taken a firm stand to lean into their values and not issued a retraction. They are taking on social change as a part of their organizational values and looking at the ways they can contribute to changing social norms around what being the best a man can be means.

Support and invest in non-profit partners – Gillette has partnered with the Building A Better Man project as well as The Boys and Girls Club of America and has declared their intention to donate $1 million over the next three years to US charities that engage young men and boys to prevent violence.

The Gillette ad has sparked an important conversation about healthy masculinity, and RALIANCE hopes Gillette will continue to play an active role in encouraging boys and men to be the best they can be. 

What Bernie should have said about allegations of sexual harassment on his campaign

We’re in a watershed moment for sexual violence prevention, but there’s so much left to do. Every day, in politics, sports, corporate America, Hollywood, and around the world, we’re reminded of how our culture falls short of treating sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse with the seriousness they deserve.

In 2019 and beyond, RALIANCE will be highlighting all the ways in which we still fall short of supporting survivors — and how all of us can do better to help end sexual violence in one generation.

The New York Times recently detailed sexual harassment, demeaning treatment, and pay disparity allegations from staff members on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview earlier this week on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Sen. Sanders how he would ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Sen. Sanders acknowledged human resources missteps and offered an apology to those who felt mistreated. He then went on to tout his 2018 Senate re-election campaign in Vermont, where mandatory training and an independent firm handled reports, as a “gold standard for what we should be doing.” Sanders closed by reaffirming that he didn’t know the extent of the issue during the 2016 election due to being too busy campaigning.

In the #MeToo era, plausible deniability is simply not enough. Sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse are widespread societal problems that require fearless leadership and action. We expect more of our political leaders, especially those seeking the highest office in the land.

Here are four things we wish Bernie had said.

“This inappropriate behavior does not reflect my values, or the values of my platform and campaign. As the leader of that campaign, the buck stops with me, and I am ultimately responsible for establishing a work environment that promotes the safety and well-being of all employees.”

“Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse have no place in our workplaces, and it’s on all of us to look out for each other. That starts with training and awareness, but it doesn’t stop there. To end sexual violence, we all must work to build a culture based on mutual respect, safety and equality.”

“We have put in place transparent policies, procedures, and reporting mechanisms that include training and awareness – not just for how victims may report but on addressing the inappropriate behaviors that enabled this to happen in the first place.”

“The Violence Against Women Act is a vital piece of legislation to support survivors access to services as well as prevention resources. Reauthorizing this important legislation right away must be a top priority for the new Congress.”

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