Seldom has a social campaign had the impact of the #MeToo movement that has grown out of the allegations against movie director Harvey Weinstein and, before him, Donald Trump. All through Western countries, behaviour that some men —well, quite a lot of men — considered acceptable sexual pursuit, has been exposed as the ugly and damaging harassment it is. It has been exposed by brave women coming forward to share their experiences through the media.
They are brave because sexual harassment comes in a range of forms, not all of them criminal offences, and, to those who have not experienced it, the enduring effects may be hard to understand. This week the Herald and Newstalk ZB are jointly publishing podcasts of interviews with victims that we hope will convey why this behaviour has no place in our society. The "Speaking Secrets" series is not simply describing personal ordeals, the victims describe how hard it is to make the decision to talk about what happened and it ought to make us all more sensitive to their needs.
It is easy when reading accounts of "less serious" (non criminal) harassment to wonder, "how bad can it be?" One of the cases reported in the Weekend Herald was of a hospital junior doctor who felt used after an extended friendship with a senior colleague who sent her suggestive texts but ended contact with her when she would not have sex with him. Had the colleague been another junior doctor she could probably have dealt with the experience normally. But it's different when people have to deal with somebody in a position of power, seniority or advantage over them.
It is not just that the victims might fear for their jobs, the risk of their being disbelieved or discouraged from speaking out becomes much greater. They know they will be threatening their tormentor's reputation, position and career. Even if they can bring themselves to do this, they know they will face pressure to drop their complaint and some of their colleagues and supervisors will take the side of the offender.
And until recently they also knew that even if their complaint was believed, unless the offence was particularly gross, they were likely to suffer more than the offender. It would no longer be possible for them to work together and it is they who were likely to be transferred or paid out of job they valued.
At least that last risk may have been reduced as a result of the #MeToo movement. Large companies and other organisations have probably introduced stricter codes of conduct for relationships within the workplace, making it clear that the person with seniority carries greater risk if the harassment is alleged. All employers and managers at every level in every organisation should be aware by now that staff who are in a vulnerable position have to be respected.
But the costs of speaking out are not confined to employment. "Speaking Secrets" finds the abused are also afraid of upsetting family or being adversely judged by their peers — or pitied, which can be just as unwelcome. The brave need a great deal of support and deserve it.