Black Women of Power Reject Victim-Blaming in Sexual Harassment Cases

Model Ambra Gutierrez was the first to take on Harvey Weinstein. (Courtesy photo)
Model Ambra Gutierrez was the first to take on Harvey Weinstein. (Courtesy photo)

Even as Alabama Republican Roy Moore faced serious and years-old allegations of sexual assault by multiple women, the controversial judge won the support of the RNC, President Donald Trump and many voters in his Senate race this week against Democrat Doug Jones.

From Moore to Harvey Weinstein, sexual harassment and allegations of assault have dominated headlines as hundreds of women — and male actor Terry Crews — have come forward with complaints. In many of the cases, including Moore, Weinstein, actor Dustin Hoffman, TV host Matt Lauer and business and music mogul Russell Simmons, many years had elapsed before assertions were made.

Weinstein was fired from his company and now faces a criminal probe. Lauer was fired from NBC, Simmons stepped down from his companies, and Hoffman and Moore continue to deny accusations.

A laundry list of other high-profile individuals in Congress, Hollywood, the sports world and corporate America have also either resigned, been suspended or terminated after allegations from the past have been uncovered.

That has led some questioning whether individuals should be forced to step down or be excluded from seeking political office when an allegation is made years or decades after the incident.

“My first thought when thinking about alleged victims of sexual abuse and harassment coming forward decades after the fact, is that when the act took place there was not a strong willingness to protect women at that time,” said Broward County (Fla.) Commissioner Barbara Sharief.

“Maybe they felt they couldn’t express those things at that point in time. I believe that today, so many women are coming forward because the times have changed and there are more laws in place to protect women who have experienced harassment and abuse,” said Sharief, who in 2013 became Broward County’s first African-American female and Muslim mayor.

In general, the tolerance for this type of behavior is changing and has been changing over the past 20 to 30 years, Sharief added.

“Based on my own personal experience of an older man sexually harassing me in 1988, I spoke up immediately and at that time nothing was done and it was dismissed and minimized,” Sharief said. “So I feel this wave of women coming forward now is just a sign of the times and that people are taking this seriously and that this behavior cannot and should not be tolerated.”

Still, too many it’s rather stunning that, particularly in the case of Weinstein, those who’ve come forward include such superstars as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne, and the now-very vocal Rose McGowan.

Yet, they remained quiet for decades until a little-known model named Ambra Gutierrez took on the powerful Weinstein.

Gutierrez first gained notoriety in 2015 when she went to authorities to complain that Weinstein had sexually assaulted her during a private meeting in his office. Some tabloids at the time implied she was an opportunist looking to exploit a wealthy film producer, and she said she struggled to find work.

It wasn’t until two months ago, when the New York Times published a bombshell report detailing a plethora of allegations against Weinstein, that Gutierrez saw vindication.

“I’m very happy to see the world changing into something good,” Gutierrez told the New York Daily News.

However, what she said next could be considered an indictment of the powerful celebrities who kept the alleged abuse quiet for years as they’ve gained famed and notoriety but suddenly have jumped on the #MeToo bandwagon.

“I only wish this would have happened two years ago. I was really alone back then,” she said.

In attempt to better understand why allegations — even those decades old — should still result in individuals losing their jobs and careers, The Washington Informer solicited the response of numerous high-profile and powerful African-American women.

While representatives for each female member of the Congressional Black Caucus declined to make those lawmakers available, several other black women of power did respond.

“The issue of inappropriate behavior between two persons continues as a primary focus of conversation — we are in a pivotal moment and many women say ‘thank goodness’ for the #MeToo movement which is what many of us believe is long overdue,” said D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (At-Large), who has long campaigned for civil rights, social justice and women’s equality. “People question, ‘Why speak out now for an abuse 40 years ago?’ To which I ask, is there ever a time when a traumatic experience becomes less traumatic? No.

“The experience is real the pain is real,” said Bonds, who earlier this year authored the Campus Sexual Assault legislation to help bring voice to the victim. “There is no place for sexual harassment, abuse, or assault in modern society. Both women and men should be judged on their merits.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that 75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation, and estimates that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported altogether.

Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley said a culture of silence regarding sexual harassment has historically served to protect perpetrators, often rendering victims powerless in their pursuit for justice. That has led to new policies in in the city designed to properly address sexual harassment and prevent retaliation in the workplace, despite no record of occurrences on that city council.

“This is a watershed moment for raising awareness around sexual harassment in general, and specifically to workplace cultures and systems which perpetuate hostile working conditions,” said Pressley, who earned the cover of Boston Business Journal special issue, “Boston’s 50 Power Players.”

The caption under Pressley: “I Run this Town.”

“Safe and inclusive work environments do not just happen — we must be intentional about fostering them,” said Pressley who in 2009 became the first woman of color ever elected to Boston City Council.

In her subsequent 2011 and 2013 re-election campaigns, Pressley made history as the first person of color and the first woman in 30 years to top the ticket.

“We will be one step closer to achieving this by establishing clear channels of communication and policies that reflect everyone’s self-worth, treat everyone with dignity, and remove any fear of retribution or loss of employment,” Pressley said.

Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, a professor and chair of Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, said, as a proud daughter of a “fantastic” black father, she understands why some would ask how long is too long.

“In terms of the idea that all people would immediately report such an experience, what the research shows is that some do and some don’t,” said Alfaro, a globally recognized scholar of intersectionality theory. “I had someone just reveal that to me regarding how her family in South Carolina worked last week in the context of this topic — that her uncle molested her, then as she kept quiet, it happened to her sister and numerous cousins and it wasn’t until a family reunion years later that they all realized they’d been victimized by the same uncle.

“The individual described her 1950s and 1960s black Southern family as one ‘where we just didn’t talk about sex,'” Alfaro said. “So I would contend that gender, region, age difference at the time of attack, sexuality — whether it was same sex or heterosexual in nature — all affect a survivor’s willingness to tell.”

Dr. Riché Richardson, a Public Voices Fellow and Mellon Diversity Fellow and associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, said the voices of the victims matter most and it’s not fair to make judgments about when women and girls report violations.

“Reasons that they do not report incidents vary, like their experiences, though reporting sooner can help make legal accountability more likely,” said Richardson, who authored the book, “Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta.”

“While the court of public opinion may also make an impact, public referenda on the choices of women and girls to remain silent are unfair and often aim to discredit their stories and end up victimizing women and girls further. No one has the right to do this,” she said.


About Stacy Brown 439 Articles
I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.