Recently I spoke with a young professional who shared about a situation in her workplace. She felt unsafe and disrespected because of sexual harassment from several men there. She did not feel brave enough to confront them on her own. Her fear was evident in her tears. Unfortunately, her experience happens to innumerable others every day. Young girls, women, and even men, experiencing sexual harassment or abuse and feel they have no voice. During the onset of the #MeToo Movement one thought kept troubling me—what about the girls who are too scared to say something? Yes, I know it is hard for each person to tell their story, but some people are too scared. They don't know they can speak up. They can't find their voice to speak up for themselves. What about those who don't know who to talk to?
It is the responsibility of each of us, and especially parents, to help those we love who are in these situations no one wants to talk about. The power to stop sexual harassment and abuse comes first by calling it out.
We need to give our kids, their friends, our friends, and other people, including ourselves, permission to say what's uncomfortable. Sometimes we don't want to entertain the thought that someone we know is being harassed or abused and even more so when the accused is someone we know. We need to speak the words to our kids and others—"I want to know if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe."
Growing up in the Midwest during the 60's and 70's, my peers and I were taught to not question authority and that the adults were always right. The media reports frequent demonstrations, protests and people taking a stand for their cause. However, the mindset of "sit down and be quiet" continues to run subconsciously through our private worlds where we feel alone and powerless to take a stand for ourselves. We need to give our kids permission to tattle—to say something when something or someone feels off. It doesn't need to start a huge ordeal, but it should start an investigation into what is causing the child's unease. You, too, will need to be brave to champion them.
Give your kids' credibility. Our kids need the confidence that they will be heard and taken seriously when they share the scariest thing they have ever told you. They need to know you will not dismiss them or do nothing. They need to know you are on their side.
Be your child's first responder. When our daughter was being harassed by boys in her class, I went with her to talk to the teacher and then the superintendent who immediately dealt with the situation.
Teach your kids (and others) where to go for help. If your child will be away from you (at camp, a friend's house, school function, etc.), tell them to whom they can go to for help. Make sure you know this person is trustworthy. If there will be no one there who you do not know is trustworthy, maybe rethink if your child should go to this activity.
Recently I read on Facebook the account of a young mom's shopping trip to our local Target. For an hour she was followed throughout the store by three men who ended up behind her in line to check out each with one or no items. I do not know this young woman, but as I read her story I kept thinking—Get help!!!! She should have immediately gone to the store manager and then called the police. Again I do not know why she did nothing, but we cannot be scared into silence. When someone feels creepy or a situation uneasy or unsafe, go to someone. Get help. Our silence gives the perpetrator power and opportunity.
Empower others. The young woman in the story I shared at the beginning of this piece needed to be empowered on how to proceed in order to bring this situation to an end. I advised her to go to the authority over her—either a supervisor, boss or human resource person. This person is responsible for the safety and well-being of all the employees. This person has the authority to enforce the consequences for sexual harassment. As with our kids, sometimes we need to give others permission to say something. We need to give them the credibility in order to believe this is not right and they should never endure such treatment.
It's your turn. When someone—either your child or a friend—tells you of their situation, do something to help them. Maybe you need to go with them. Maybe you need to help them follow up to make sure the situation is being effectively dealt with.
I hate that our world has a need for the #MeToo Movement. Yet, I would love for it to serve as a launching pad where our girls, their friends, our friends, ourselves and all people have a safe place to call out those who threaten them in any way.
For more on ideas on building and nurturing a relationship with your kids, especially in trying times, check out Brenda's book: Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With.
Brenda Garrison is a speaker and author of four books including, Princess Unaware: Finding the Fabulous in Every Day, and Queen Mom: A Royal Plan for Restoring Order in Your Home. She has spoken to audiences in Eastern Asia and throughout the United States. Brenda has been a guest on "Family Life Today", "Focus on the Family", and Moody Radio's "Midday Connection" with Anita Lustrea.
Brenda and her husband, Gene, have three grown daughters, three son-in-laws, and one amazing grandson. They live near Metamora, IL.