The power of speech
The accused said nothing as he entered the court. He just smiled. That same half-smile so familiar from many of his 86 television, movie and stage credits, the smile we saw when he accepted his two Academy Awards. And the crinkles around his light brown eyes, so piercing they could wound at 20 paces. Even in the criminal dock this week, charged with sexual assault, Kevin Spacey had an undeniable presence.
Perhaps it was good, then, that he had nothing to say at Nantucket District Courthouse. His accusers believe Spacey has used that Southern drawl and charismatic Hollywood clout to silence those he has harmed.
If there has been one thing that has distinguished the #MeToo movement, it’s that sexual assault survivors feel supported to speak the stories they have felt too fearful to tell, until now.
‘‘Most men who come forward aren’t 19 years old; my son is an exception,’’ says Heather Unruh, whose son was allegedly assaulted by Spacey. ‘‘Most men live with a dark secret for a long time. One in six men are sexually assaulted by the time they’re 18. Why isn’t anyone talking about that?’’
She is right: despite our seeming transparency in posting photos of our lunch on Instagram, today’s generations still struggle with a legacy of guilt and misguided privacy; there is much we bottle up.
As many as four out of five women experience sexual harassment; one in three suffers a sexual assault. I spoke to Harvard Medical School teaching associate Dr Jim Hopper this weekend: he says the prevalence of men being sexually assaulted is closer to the rates for women than once believed – that ‘‘dark secret’’ of which Heather Unruh speaks.
With every person who chooses to tell their story, though, it becomes easier for those who are nursing a painful secret to know they’re not alone. People we meet, people we know, my friends and I, now find it’s not so scary to talk about our experiences. Yes, me too. As a 19-year-old, inexperienced in the world, a stranger plied me with unfamiliar drugs then sexually assaulted me.
I felt ashamed, then. Now, I no longer do. I believe we blokes need to talk more about this culture that enables perpetrators and endangers victims.
As we learn the power of speech, we can teach our kids about respecting themselves and respecting others. I have three young boys: it will become easier to talk to them about growing up to be good men.
And that’s why this column is not about #MeToo. This is about the power of speech. It is about the importance of old media and new media and regular people coming together shoulder-toshoulder in the street to share experiences and to engineer change. Trusting ourselves to talk openly, and act fairly.
In the Star-Times we hear from ‘‘J’’ who says she was abused as a child, but is barred by law from telling her own story without the agreement of the court and her alleged assailant. We report on a proposed law change to conceal the identity of police officers who shoot people. We have recounted the frustrations of parents who are banned from talking through a child’s suicide. We’ve met bullied workers whose companies impose draconian gagging orders. We encounter wealthy celebrities who hire expensive lawyers to protect some quite ridiculous privacy expectations.
We tell our kids, no secrets. But as a community, we’re struggling to balance privacy and openness, confidentiality and accountability.
As a journalist, I believe shaking off some of those shackles and gags can often bring about powerful change. We’ve seen it as refugees open our eyes to their experiences. We’ve seen it inspire homosexual law reform. We’ve seen it with #MeToo.
When you speak, whether in a quiet tweet or on the front of the newspaper or by filing a charge in Nantucket Courthouse, you give courage to others.
Telling our stories can bring about powerful change
Jonathan Milne finishes today as editor of the Sunday StarTimes, Sunday News and Stuff Sundays. This is his final column.
Kevin Spacey enters court.