What a difference a year makes.
In the time since a number of women spoke out about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo movement has forced Americans, not just those in Hollywood, to pay attention.
In those moments, women saw a glimmer of victory.
Before Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement took off (a decade in the making), Nell Scovell, then a writer on “Late Night with David Letterman,” revealed her experience with sexual harassment behind-the-scenes in a 2009 Vanity Fair article.
In it, she wrote: “Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no.”
This kind of inequality in the workplace still holds true.
One thing that has changed, says Stephen Montagna, a violence prevention and social justice activist, is the way that survivors can connect to each other.
“The major difference, perhaps, is that social media has provided a network for survivors to no longer live in isolation. Now their stories are shared stories, and the true patterns — both of how some individual men can perpetrate upon multiple victims, and how as a whole this kind of violence is happening in every community, across every identity and in every economic status and every geographic region,” he explains in an email.
Before she decided to speak out, Scovell and her husband called their accountant. She asked him, “If I come forward and I never work again, will we still be able to send the kids to college? What will happen? And he said, ‘You’re good.’ So, I was lucky and I do feel fortunate that I had that safety net that allowed me to come forward and call the show out for both harassment in the workplace and gender discrimination in the writers room.”
The fear of retribution and retaliation are still prevalent reasons why many women do not report sexual assault or harassment in the workplace.
Will it be the end of a career? Will there be a steady income ever again?
Then there are the long-term effects of assault and violence. A study published in JAMA this month concludes sexual harassment leads to higher risks of hypertension and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women.
“The lesson from [the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing] is we all have to have these conversations: what is sexual harassment, what is sexual violence, what is consent? And they are uncomfortable conversations and we need to have them in our homes,” says psychologist Sheela Raja. “But we also need to have our institutions have policies in terms of: How do you come forward? How do you report these things? How will this be handled?”
Even then, it is still clear only certain women feel comfortable to speak out. For the most part, this past year, it has been women in relative places of power who have cleared the path for the non-celebrities.
“It’s incumbent on women who can speak out, who have the power and the standing and the financial stability to speak out that they do speak out,” says Scovell, who is back to working in Hollywood.
With how far the #MeToo movement has to go, Scovell is still thankful.