As Harvey Weinstein’s trial continues in Los Angeles this week, and details about his sexual assaults flood national headlines, we are once again reminded that we have a long way to go before we end sexual violence.
It has been five years since #MeToo went viral and hundreds of powerful people, predominantly men, were forced to face accountability for their abuse. Of those hundreds, only seven have been convicted and another five face charges. We know that the criminal justice system is not built to hold abusers accountable. We have been reminded of that reality each time a powerful abuser is let off with a light sentence or no sentence at all.
It has been two years since Weinstein was convicted of rape and criminal sexual assault, a trial that was largely seen as symbolic in the #MeToo movement, after details of his abuse catapulted the anti-violence movement into the national spotlight.
Weinstein was one of the very few who were convicted for their abuse, a seeming win for the anti-violence movement. But today, as he continues to face legal consequences of his abuse, we are met with another stark reality of sexual violence in this country: sexual assault is more widespread today than it was in 2017.
In fact, the Center on Gender Equity and Health’s recent CalVEX study on Californian’s experience from sexual violence highlights an increase in reports of violence between 2020 and 2022 for both men and women, a reality many states across the U.S. are also grappling with.
What we are doing isn’t working. Our reliance on the criminal justice system will never end sexual violence because it fails to address why people cause harm in the first place. Black and brown women have been telling us that investing in carceral systems will only continue systems of harm since they started this movement decades ago. Carceral systems focus on prosecuting abusive individuals while failing to address why people abuse in the first place.
When more than 1.5 million Californian’s report committing some form of sexual harassment or violence, we know that sexual violence is systemic, it is deeply embedded into the systems in which we live our lives and raise our children.
The good news about systems is that they have to be built, so they can be dismantled.
When all we do is respond to a problem, we never open our minds to a world where the problem doesn’t exist. Harvey Weinstein, the abusers who came before him, as well as all who will come after, are a reminder that we must invest in prevention. While responding to sexual violence and providing a path to healing are important pieces to our work, they cannot exist alone.
At VALOR, we are committed to not only providing pathways to healing for survivors, but to preventing and ending sexual violence by advancing equity and eradicating oppression. That means we must dig deep, look within ourselves and our communities, and address the systems in which violence thrives: systems like racism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism. We must hold our friends, colleagues and neighbors accountable not only when they commit harm, but when they uphold traditions and norms that enable it.
We all have a role we can play in preventing violence.