Opinion: Rape culture will not change until silent bystanders start speaking up

A mother participates in the #MeToo Survivors' March in Los Angeles on Nov. 12 with her 6-month-old daughter.
A mother participates in the #MeToo Survivors’ March in Los Angeles on Nov. 12 with her 6-month-old daughter.
(David McNew / Getty Images)

To the editor: Right now we are outraged about sexual harassment, so we must get this right as we’ve been here far too many times. We must seize the moment and move to action. (“It shouldn’t take an impending exposé to topple the Matt Lauers of corporate America,” editorial, Nov. 29)

Sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence, and it fits in the larger framework of rape culture, which describes a setting where rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. This setting is reinforced by norms that allow exploitation and the imbalance of power to persist so the powerful can continue to prey on the vulnerable.

We must make perpetrators accountable for their actions, and bystanders are crucial to making this happen. Bystanders have key roles in the persistence of sexual violence; they aid and abet the norms of rape culture when they look the other way. Instead of staying quiet, they can speak up and change attitudes around gender and sexuality.


The question isn’t how can survivors prevent sexual violence; rather, it is how can people change the imbalance of power and prevent sexual violence by being an ally and change-maker in their community, industry or society? We need to treat victims and survivors with respect and create spaces of safety so they feel comfortable to come forward. We must have a balanced workforce hierarchy that represents the population. We must seek to remedy this situation for good.

Faye Washington, Los Angeles

The writer is president and chief executive of the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles.


To the editor: Attempting to process the recent barrage of sexual harassment allegations — many against public figures who have made valuable contributions to our culture — has been exasperating. So many inconsistencies and false equivalencies are being drawn.

Reacting to a real societal problem without restraint or nuance has made it difficult to find the space for rational understanding or conversation. We are conflating criminal acts with behavior that may be in poor taste or offensive to some.

A zero-tolerance approach presumes a universally held standard for what constitutes sexual misconduct. It is clear that using a position of power to gain sexual favors, forcing sex on an unwilling partner, and engaging in sex with a minor are, and have been, egregious acts. Yet, many of the stories that we are hearing do not cross any of those lines.


When judging more ambiguous behavior, context should not be ignored. We must acknowledge that humans are sexual beings and that our behavior is complex. The cultural roles for men and women have gone through a revolution over the last century and most of the norms that governed sexual behavior have shifted.

We cannot judge all behavior retroactively by today’s standards.

Renée Dernburg, Los Angeles


To the editor: This was the day I’ve been waiting for: when someone with a platform of some kind would re-introduce the matter of President Trump having so far gotten away scot-free with something he admitted to on tape (although at the time he had no idea it would be made public). (“Will Trump ever have to answer to the women who say he harassed and assaulted them?” Nov. 28)

Why has this issue not been pursued further? I don’t know what the rules are for litigating against a sitting president, but my fondest hope is that now that sexual harassment has gotten traction and is being treated as if it actually meant something (and the accusers aren’t being threatened with public humiliation, job loss or not being believed), things will circle back to Trump and he’ll be put back on the hot seat where he belongs.

It is truly beyond me how people can defend his vengeful, rude, immature and dangerous personality and business style. To top it off, he has his female press secretary reiterate that all the women who accused him are lying. All of them. I hope she one day realizes what she has done.

Wendy Westgate, Burbank

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