Dear Ms. Winfrey,
As you know, scores of courageous women have come forth recently and made public their experiences involving sexual assault. Often, famous men are involved.
This has been called a ‘watershed moment’ for American women, a ‘game-changer’ for American society, and a ‘reckoning’ for American men, especially those in positions of power who have insulted, harassed, threatened, and assaulted colleagues, acquaintances, or perfect strangers.
No woman enjoys the experience of being sexually assaulted. It’s not flattering. It is demeaning and damaging. It’s effects are instantly felt and can last a lifetime. Yet so many women have endured these experiences for two reasons: one, they can’t financially afford to quit their job, litigate against a more powerful (and probably wealthier) predator; two, they fear, rightfully so, that their careers would be effectively over if they spoke out. Retaliation and an unjust tarnishing of an accuser’s reputation are other elements that come into play as victims contemplate and calculate how they can respond. If they feel they can respond at all.
It’s no wonder that it may be months or years before victims of sexual assault come forward, and why many times the offer of a confidential financial settlement is the most appealing option in this, an awful, no-win situation. It hardly resounds of justice. It is often simply pragmatic.
Still, Ms. Winfrey, there may be something you can do. You are in a unique position given your personal resources and your influence. You can establish a women’s defense fund, for lack of a better term, which would help the victims of workplace sexual assault.
The fund would field complaints from victims confidentially. Then, in coordination with law enforcement, perhaps a law firm specializing in this practice area, and/or the victim’s corporate human resources department, the organization would investigate, advocate, and if necessary, litigate on behalf of the victim as she seeks justice.
Most importantly, the fund would provide crucial, interim financial assistance with legal fees and living expenses if the victim has been terminated as a result of their verified accusations. As many of these accusations have involved the entertainment industry, your influence could also prevent a victim from being ostracized from the industry for reporting sexual assault in the workplace. You can–informally, quietly, but very effectively–pick up the telephone and call other powerful people on behalf of a victim.
This organization would directly address the harshest reality concerning this issue: that the vast majority of women who experience unwelcome sexual behavior in the workplace are not in a position to risk the loss of employment, the opportunity for advancement, and the expense of litigation.
They have mouths to feed and lives to lead. The men who prey on them rely on this. Without resources, without a champion, this ‘watershed moment’ runs the risk of drying up. After the headlines are gone, working women still have to pay the rent.
My hopes are that you have already considered doing something like this, that I’m late in articulating these thoughts, and that you’ve already begun funding and hiring for this advocacy organization.
For decades, you have spoken for and empowered women. This is the next battle. I hope you, once again, take up arms.
A note to my readers: if you think it appropriate, please consider forwarding this post to ten of your friends. Ask them to forward it to ten of their friends. My hope is that, with enough traction, we’ll get it in front of Oprah Winfrey as well. Thanks again.