Why don't women come forward after sexual assault? This comment nailed it.

"Why didn't she say anything sooner?"

It's the question that frustrates sexual assault prevention advocates and discredits the victims who bravely come forward after they've been targeted.

Stars Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow — who both disclosed to The New York Times they'd been sexually harassed by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein years ago — are among the latest women now having to trudge through a predictable wave of victim-blaming following their disclosures.

Gwyneth Paltrow (left) and Angelina Jolie. Photos by Jason Kempin/Getty Images and Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.


Paltrow and Jolie's descriptions of abuse follow an explosive report in the Times on Oct. 5, 2017, that chronicled decades of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Weinstein — a man with seemingly boundless sway and power in the filmmaking world.

Sadly, Paltrow and Jolie were met with various forms of the question. "Why didn't the women of Hollywood stop him?" sprouted up immediately in corners of the internet.

One viral comment on the Times article, however, nailed why questioning a victim's actions after surviving sexual harassment or assault does so much harm.  

"It is disheartening to see so many comments already blaming women for not 'speaking up,'" the reader, identified as "K" from Brooklyn, began.

"Please count yourself lucky that you've never had your career on the line based on whether or not you sleep with your boss," they continued. "It has nothing to do with fame and riches; this happens to women making minimum wage in retail as well as women who fought through it to become CEOs."

"K" continued, giving context as to why it's often very difficult and complicated for survivors to speak up after being abused (emphasis added):

"The psychology behind this kind of thing is not that complex, so please spare a moment to consider: Not only are these women made to feel humiliated and embarrassed, but in some cases if they had come forward, they not only would never work again, they also would be seen as whiners and 'too sensitive.' Both Jolie and Paltrow fended him off. Imagine if they made a big stink about it. They would have been ripped apart in the media! 'Oh for goodness' sake, a dirty old man came on to you. You rejected him and moved on, why the fuss?' But, of course, now we must insist on blaming them for 'perpetuating' Weinstein's behavior. Please."

As "K" described, victims often stay silent because they're vulnerable to the power abusers have over the situation; victims could lose their job or see their credibility attacked, for instance. These kinds of power dynamics — whether it be in Hollywood or not — play a big role in why victims stay silent.

Harvey Weinstein. Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.

For victims of sexual harassment, the threat to their livelihood does not end after a single encounter with an abuser. If a young, less accomplished Paltrow had spoken out against a figure like Weinstein, would he have irreversibly tarnished her reputation? Would he have planted unforgiving stories about her in the media? Would she have ever worked again? These are the sorts of threats victims weigh before speaking out. A predator's hold on a victim's career or reputation creates a culture of silence.

The commenter also used Brad Pitt's involvement in the story to note a sexist double standard in how we see victims of sexual assault.

If we're blaming Paltrow and Jolie for not speaking up sooner, why aren't we blaming Brad Pitt as well?

Pitt, who'd been romantically involved with both Paltrow and Jolie at different points in his career, reportedly knew about Weinstein's predatory behavior, according to The Daily Beast, yet he worked with Weinstein on two films following the disturbing encounters. The fact that he's largely been left out of the discussion says a lot about how we view victims of sexual assault, particularly when they're women.

"K" went on to say that the attitudes of blaming women for their own persecution are astounding: "Note that the comments have not centered around Brad Pitt's not saying anything, though he knew about it with not one but TWO romantic partners...It is not the women's job to monitor men's behavior."

Weintein (left) and Pitt (right) at the premiere of  "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

The assertions made by "K," whose comment drew over 3,000 likes and a long thread of supportive replies, aren't just steeped in opinion; advocates argue sexual harassment is rarely just about sex — asserting power plays an instrumental role.

"Most frequently, survivors of sexual harassment, exploitation and violence delay making an official report of what has happened out of fear of how others will respond," Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, explained to HuffPost in March 2017. "From retaliation by the perpetrator to gossip, dismissive responses and outright victim blaming by colleagues, friends and family."

We need to stop asking "Why didn't she say anything?" and instead wonder "Why aren't we doing more to support survivors?"

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

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"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

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"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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