In Chapter 6 of the 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as:
“Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.”
In the same report, the WHO states, “Sexual violence has generally been a neglected area of research in most parts of the world, yet the evidence suggests that it is a public health problem of substantial proportions…The lack of an agreed definition of sexual violence and the paucity of data describing the nature and extent of the problem worldwide have contributed to its lack of visibility on the agendas of policy-makers and donors.”
Another powerful, influential person in Hollywood, Director James Toback, has been accused of sexual harassment, by more than 30 women. Over the weekend it was reported that Fox News Anchor, Bill O’Reilly, has settled yet another sexual harassment claim for $32 million, and then somehow had his contract with Fox News renewed for $25 million per year. The environment that has allowed sexual violence to continue within these large, influential institutions mirrors what was allowed to happened on the local level here in Minnesota during the 1970’s and 1980’s at the Children’s Theatre Company. John Clark Donahue had a history of sexual violence before starting the locally operated and nationally recognized theatre. A phrase used in the media to describe the situations involving Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and most recently James Toback, as an “open secret” is all too often the case.
Despite the World Health Organization giving ‘sexual violence’ a definition, many still question whether what they have experienced falls within the definition. But with the ability to engage with each other and share stories over the Internet, social media, and with recognizable people in the media talking about their experiences, survivors are identifying what happened and speaking up for themselves. The ability of an open secret to live in this environment is diminishing.
Think big, act big. Research your community and find an organization or a support group dedicated to helping people in your situation. With a loud voice, the epidemic of sexual violence can become visible to the policy-makers and donors who have yet to hear your story.