Thanks to the overwhelming publicity surrounding both the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and the Larry Nassar criminal case involving Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, most Americans have been engaged in a much more open dialogue regarding the topic of appropriate sexual boundaries in recent months. Given the number of victims and the decades of abuse represented by these two cases alone, it would appear that these conversations have been badly needed for a very long time.
One potential problem with recognizing or preventing similar incidents of sexual abuse and harassment, however, is that many times the perpetrators’ behavior doesn’t appear as extreme or obviously inappropriate as the cases that make the news. Consequently, victims of inappropriate sexual advances don’t always feel justified in calling out the behavior or reporting an incident if it was “just uncomfortable”.
Actor David Schwimmer and writer/director Sigal Avin have created a video series designed to highlight this particular issue and educate others as to where the line defining sexual harassment actually lies. In doing so, they created a resource that allows people in various settings to identify sexual harassment before it escalates to a pattern of abuse. Cosmopolitan.com has helped to publicize the series, called #ThatsHarassment.
The video series depicts six different dramatizations of real encounters that represent varying scenarios in which an ordinary, non-sexual interaction degenerates into an incident of sexual harassment. In each case, the incidents evolve unexpectedly, and illustrate how perpetrators normalize their behavior and deflect attention from the true purpose of each encounter. The videos—titled simply “The Doctor”, “The Boss”, “The Coworker”, “The Actor”, “The Photographer”, and “The Politician”—provide concrete examples of how different perpetrators might operate in a variety of settings. They also show quite graphically where an imbalance of power occurs between perpetrator and victim, and how it can be difficult to identify the exact moment in which an encounter crosses the line into sexual harassment.
Schwimmer notes in an interview with Today that the videos are often uncomfortable to watch because they don’t flinch away from depicting the victims’ feelings and the difficulty that social conditioning creates in how they respond to the inappropriate behavior. As such, the videos aren’t just a powerful tool for adult awareness. Parents of older children and teens, in keeping with the mission of Offender Watch Initiative, might wish to consider watching the series with their kids and discussing the conditions under which each incident of sexual harassment takes place, the way(s) in which the behavior escalated into sexual harassment, and what kids and teens might be able to do or say if confronted with a similar situation.
If you choose for your kids to view the videos, be aware that there’s some strong language and graphic content due to the nature of the subject matter—but also know that they also represent an important and effective opportunity to engage with your kids on a topic that negatively affects millions of Americans (including a disproportionate number of girls and women) over the course of their lifetime.