The news about Harvey Weinstein is both shocking and not shocking whatsoever. Shocking that any human being would want to do all the things he allegedly did to other human beings. Not shocking at all, because it's not particularly revelatory that a millionaire mogul with lots of power has abused said power. Not shocking at all because these kind of abuses happen all the time, perpetrated not just by Hollywood producers, but by shop managers in Croydon, bank tellers in Manchester and abusers in their own homes to the people they love.
To me, what's most shocking is the level of complicity of so many people directly or indirectly linked to Weinstein. Vaguely forgivable complicity – as in "I knew about the rumours" – to unforgivable complicity: at best, putting women in a situation you know isn't quite right; at worst, being more than aware of the severe physical and mental trauma likely to be inflicted on that person.
Over my life I've been the victim of sexually predatory behaviour and/or abuse of power four major times, and multiple other "minor" times. All these incidents have something in common: the sense of emptiness I felt when the people I turned to for help in some way did not respond. A sense of things being allowed to go on, as it would have been too much trouble for the people around me to get involved.
Reading the Weinstein allegations is bringing back my anger at the complicity of others in what I read as the trivialisation of the experiences of young women. I am reading everything I can about those who were affected by him. And I recognise him. I recognise all of this behaviour from my own experiences over the years with "Weinsteins" and "Weinstein enablers".
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My mum, sisters and I suffered domestic violence, sexual intimidation and mental abuse at home. My mum bore the brunt of the abuse. We witnessed my father put a fork through her hand, heard him kick the front door down and beat her because she'd failed to stay awake until his 3AM arrival home. Other times we'd see him force himself on her. He had anger issues. He didn't respect women. He abused his power.
My sisters got the next level of abuse and intimidation. They were often called "cunts", "whores", "ugly" and "fat". He was oppressive and manipulative with them. I couldn't protect them from him when he was coming at them. I might shout for him to stop, but I didn't physically intervene. In those moments I felt complicit in their abuse. I didn't stop him. I protected myself. I was scared too.
I received the least abuse, something that makes me feel guilty to this day. In my teens I would witness him masturbating on a far too frequent basis – not at me, but he made no attempt to hide what he was doing. It made me feel sick, and I would be scared to go downstairs to use the bathroom in case I saw him do it again. He often called me a "slag" and would grab my bum when I walked up the stairs.
We never told anyone anything at the time.
The closest I got to confronting him was one Christmas after my parents broke up. He was threatening to come to the house. I told him I would phone the police, and I did. The police told me that unless something actually happened they couldn't do anything. I told him I'd told the police. That they had logged my concerns and had a back-up team waiting. That was a lie. I was trying hard to be strong. I refused to be silenced for the first time. It paid off. My dad never made to it our house that day.
Many years later I asked my dad whether he regretted how he treated us. He laughed, mumbled something about not understanding how hard it was to be a dad and changed the subject. I didn't have the energy to challenge it further. None of us have ever really challenged it.
My sisters and I are more distant with my father, but he's still our dad; we still ask after him, we still visit him. Time and physical distance from him have allowed us to mentally step away from what went on. I've had many forms of counselling over the years, and it's helped. I'm a stronger person.
What's most tragic about this is that my mum still carries the weight of our living with my dad. Her family had no idea what my mum had gone through all those years; she'd become an expert in hiding. She was worn down by her experiences and had no fight left. I get that, of course, but I still can't shake the feeling of anger I can sometimes have that she "allowed" the abuse of her children. Why didn't she protect us and herself? Why didn't she just leave? Did that make my mum complicit in our abuse? Maybe. But forgivably so. She was silenced and broken.
I've told some of my dad's family about parts of the abuse and been met with, "Oh, that's just X – you know what he's like." Was that denial or complicity? At the time I put it down to denial, but recently one of them said, "He's got a lot better now, hasn't he?" Which said to me they were aware of what was going on. Was it complicity all along?
"He didn't get a permanent exclusion from school for what he did. It feels like there was a seed of doubt on how serious they thought this incident was. Did I need to be raped for them to exclude him?"
When I was 15 I worked hard at school. I rarely got in trouble. I was one of the "good girls". I was very insecure and had low self-esteem. I tried to keep a low profile.
One day, two boys the year below me started getting on my bus. Over a period of weeks they started to sit closer to me and cat-call me. I mentioned it to teachers at school, who said to just ignore it. I tried to ignore it. I remember feeling intimidated.
Then, when I was running late one day, they appeared from behind some bushes. They started walking faster and were saying lewd things to me. I ran into the school building. Register was being taken so there was no one around. I ran up the stairwell to my form class and was dragged back down some stairs. I felt lots of hands. They touched my breasts and managed to take my knickers off. I literally couldn't shout. I tried to but nothing came out. It was a living nightmare. I just remember hands, hands, hands and no voice.
Just then, the school bell rang for class and the stairwell flooded with children. The boys ran off. I told the school about what happened. The police were involved. One of the boys was sent away to live with his aunt. The other boys parent contested everything I said. They said I wore a skirt, which they said was provocative. The police asked me about it. The skirt was standard issue school uniform.
The police thankfully did put some kind of order on the boy: he couldn't go near me for six months. They also promised me that after his temporary exclusion they would prepare me for his return. He didn't get a permanent exclusion for what he did. It feels like there was a seed of doubt on how serious they thought this incident was. Did I need to be raped for them to exclude him?
The school never told me when he was coming back. In fact, I first found out he was back when I saw him in the playground running after another girl "playfully" and grabbing her breasts. I went to the head teacher. The school apologised to me, but nothing else happened to him.
Six months later I was working my Saturday job. He turned up and said, "Your six months is up. Watch out." I broke down. A few of the men I worked with followed him outside. I don't know what happened after that. They wouldn't tell me. I didn't ever hear from him again.
Years later, when I was at university, my mum sent me a clipping from the local newspaper. At age 18 he had been charged with around 13 counts of rape and serious sexual assault, and was being sentenced.
Apparently he did need to escalate to incredibly violent criminal acts for his behaviour be taken seriously.
Fast forward to age 23, at a famous fast food outlet I was working at one summer. The general sense in the kitchen was that the men could spend the whole day chirpsing female staff and it was OK. At 23, I took it in my stride. I'm pretty certain every 23-year-old woman – certainly at that time – had experienced clicks, whistles and shouts of "fit" at some point. It was only when someone in the kitchen started cornering one of the girls every time she went into the walk-in fridge, changing his shifts to be on the late-night shift with her and talking about her breasts and arse the whole time that I decided this was far beyond anything that could be considered banter. I asked her if she wanted to do something about it. She was scared of losing her job but agreed she should do something. I raised it with the manager on her behalf, who said, "All the boys do it. You ladies like it – it's flattering."
I said I was going to get evidence from all the women on site and present it as a sexual harassment case, and I did start collating statements. I tried, at least. Not that many women wanted anything on record. They didn't want to "start trouble". They were worried about their jobs. Everything felt so trivial to them once they started saying it out loud. I recognised that feeling.
I ended up presenting a few fairly diluted statements to the manager. It was enough for the culprit to get a warning, but not via HR or any formal routes. Not enough to lose his job. I handed in my notice.
My last experience was when I was about 27, when I worked in the central office of a restaurant chain. I was in a board meeting taking minutes when two of the 50+ year-old men started talking about my breasts. I looked down at the table and hoped it would stop. It was mortifying and degrading. There were at least five other men in the room, no women. After some minutes the Managing Director finally told them to "knock it on the head, lads".
For the next week talk of my breasts went on when the men passed me. I raised my concerns in person with the Managing Director. He said something to them, because they cornered me in my tiny office and said they could make my life pretty difficult if I said anything else. That week I received a hamper of booze and food from one of the restaurant suppliers, gifted to me from one of the men with a note reading: "Thanks for your hard work."
I raised the intimidation and pay-off gifts with the MD. Two weeks later I was made redundant. I don't think it was a coincidence.
"Saying things out loud sometimes does make things feel trivial, but they are not. If it feels bad or wrong, it often is."
Unfortunately, stories like mine are far too common. Talking to so many of my friends and peers, most women and some men have experienced sexual intimidation, power plays, abuse. I know I'm lucky, in a way; there are sadly many much worse stories.
What have I taken from all this? That people protect themselves for good or ill, not always for the greater good. That people find hard subject matter hard to deal with and often go into fight or flight. That, generally, things do have to ramp up to 11 for women to be heard, or any abused male or female to be "taken seriously" after a first incident. That incidents like these happen a lot, to many women from every walk of life and many industries.
Saying things out loud sometimes does make things feel trivial, but they are not. If it feels bad or wrong, it often is. We are all part of stopping abuse. Speaking out and also listening. Ask people if they are really OK. Throughout my own personal experience and from what I've read of the Weinstein allegations, even when someone volunteers their experience, many of those around them don't hear or see what's really going on. Listen and look harder.
I hope this horrific news about Weinstein blows open the doors for significant change in the workplace, globally, across all industries. That women – and, indeed, any victims of abuse or sexual intimidation – feel the strength to say something is happening, and to get the help they need.