Society praises assailants who assault women while ignoring victims

Liza Anderson

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Ostensibly, this means that we dedicate the month of April to promoting the interests of sexual assault survivors and expanding awareness of the problem of sexual assault in this country.
April 2017 is not shaping up to be the haven of gender equality we had in mind.

Last week, The New York Times revealed extensive allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O’Reilly . As it currently stands, he is accused of sexually harassing several female employees, five of whom have accepted settlements from Fox News Network, totaling $13 million. Almost 60 companies have pulled advertisements from “The O’Reilly Factor” in response to these allegations, and the O’Reilly ship in many ways appears to be sinking.

Again, not the case.

O’Reilly’s viewership has gone up 14 percent in the week since these allegations have come to light. Inexplicably and ridiculously, sexual harassment has gone well for Bill O’Reilly. Once more, our society has chosen to demonstrate that no matter how much open condemnation we place on sexual assailants and harassers in theory, in practice we still prioritize their experiences over those of their victims.

The ultimate twist of irony came last Wednesday when President Donald Trump chose to weigh in on the issue in O’Reilly’s favor. Within a week of declaring his administration’s commitment to “supporting victims, preventing future abuse, and prosecuting offenders to the full extent of the law,” Trump spoke out in defense of a man who almost certainly did what he is accused of doing.

Putting the question of O’Reilly’s guilt aside, Trump’s intervention was inappropriate. Trump is the president of the United States, and he has a responsibility to protect all Americans, not just the powerful male ones. Speaking out on behalf of an accused sex offender not only undermines the legislative process, but also delegitimizes the struggles of women who report sexual abuse. It’s hard enough to come forward against a powerful assailant when the president of the United States isn’t directly supporting him. The president should by all accounts possess the self-awareness to avoid weighing in on such issues.

Wrong. Wrong and hopelessly naive.

Of course Trump supports Bill O’Reilly — they’re in the same boat. And of course it’s working out for Bill O’Reilly — it worked out for Trump. When the Access Hollywood tape was leaked last year, revealing by Trump’s own admission that he had sexually assaulted numerous women, we all assumed that meant the end of his chances for the presidency.

Once more, wrong. Wrong and hopelessly naive.

We don’t live in a society that prioritizes victims. We live in a society that prioritizes assailants, that gives them the presidency and network-syndicated TV shows and millions of dollars. We live in a society where the president speaking out against sexual assault comes across more as a sick taunt than an actual expression of solidarity.

There are fundamental problems with the way our society handles sexual assault. In essence, we don’t care. We pretend to care about victims when we see horrifying statistics, but when they threaten the well-being of powerful men, we always find a way to overlook them. We pretend that women and men are treated equally while turning a blind eye to women every day who prove that they aren’t. And until we learn the empathy necessary to care about the women who accuse Trump and O’Reilly of sexual misconduct, don’t expect anything to change.

Anderson is a Plan II and history freshman from Houston. She is a columnist. Follow her on Twitter @lizabeen.