What do Taylor Swift, Jane Caro and Fifi Box have in common?
Each of these women have very recently disclosed incidents of sexual assault that they kept quiet for many years.
Caro stayed silent for several years about the GP who molested her during a medical appointment when she was in her 20s.
She has spoken about the stinging shame and humiliation she felt afterwards, and how that kept her from telling anyone it had happened.
Until Monday, radio presenter Fifi Box stayed quiet about a very “high profile” celebrity who sexually assaulted her 15 years ago.
“He sat in the studio and during the interview, he was touching me — reaching over and grabbing and stroking my leg — then grabbed my head and forced it down into his crotch. [He] actually rubbed my head in his crotch,” Box said on her radio show earlier this week.
— news.com.au (@newscomauHQ) August 14, 2017
She went on to explain why she didn’t complain or speak up.
“A part of you is shocked. Is this guy actually doing this to me? You’re trying to be polite and you’re nervous. Our boss came into the studio and I thought, ‘Oh thank god, he’s here to save me’. [But] our boss wanted a photo with that person. In that moment I’m thinking, maybe what happened to me is fine?”
Box was inspired to speak about it because of Taylor Swift, the singer who recently took to the stand in a court trial to outline the indecent assault she endured by a DJ David Mueller.
The jury in the case were unanimous in their verdict that he had groped the singer during a meet and greet in 2013. He was found guilty of assault and battery.
— ABC News (@ABC) August 14, 2017
In thanking the jury and the judge afterwards Swift referenced the pull of staying silent.
“I want to thank Judge William J Martinez and the jury for their careful consideration, my attorneys… for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support throughout this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process,” the statement read. “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this.”
Pursuing perpetrators is a cost – in time, money and emotions – that few victims of sexual assault are willing or able to cover.
It also requires speaking up and challenging the perpetrator which is something both Box and Caro say is hard to contemplate in the aftermath.
Speaking up means ruffling feathers. It means publicly taking a stance. It means assuming the “victim” status. These are hardly inviting prospects and it is worse because so often these assaults are facilitated by a power imbalance. The doctor and his patient. The boss and his secretary. The famous guest and the radio host.
It is a rare woman who hasn’t encountered some form of indecent behaviour at one point or another by a man more powerful than she is.
Fifi Box speaks publicly for the first time about being sexually assaulted by a "high profile" male celebrity https://t.co/5CRETkOkME
— smh.com.au (@smh) August 14, 2017
It is far rarer to find one who spoke up, there and then. Those who do speak up are rarely rewarded for their disclosure.
(Show me a woman who has lifted the lid on sexual assault in the workplace and landed on her feet?)
Caro says that since revealing the appalling conduct of her GP, many many women and men have revealed their own similar tales of being sexually assaulted and shamed into silence.
— Mary Barry CEO (@OurWatchCEO) August 10, 2017
When speaking up occurs enmasse it takes the power away from the perpetrators. Women like Caro and Box openly discussing their own appalling experiences of assault is dispiriting, but it might inspire change.
As Caro recently wrote for Fairfax Media: “[Silence] is a very powerful and effective equation – if you are a perpetrator. Shame silences victims and silence protects those who want to continue to use others for their own gratification with impunity. Everyone who tells their story makes the world a little more dangerous for perpetrators and a little safer for the vulnerable.”
It is why Swift’s legal action and the public disclosures of women like Caro and Box are victories. Victories that are objectionable and ought not have taken place, but victories because piece by piece they are taking the power away from perpetrators.