As 2017 closed out, women across several major industries, chiefly Hollywood and the media, began exposing men in power who sexually abused them. Since Harvey Weinstein was exposed in October of last year, the Me Too movement has primarily centered celebrities who already have a lot of influence, and the financial means to deal with the fallout that often comes with speaking out against sexual violence.
Women of all walks of life began to publicly share their own stories of sexual abuse online, and also offered words of support to celebrities who revealed major injustices against women in their industries. Now, hundreds of women in Hollywood are turning their attention to working-class women who suffer abuse at work.
The new initiative is called TIME’S UP, and is lead by 300 women in Hollywood from actors to agents and directors. Some of the more famous names behind TIME’S UP include America Ferrera, Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, and Eva Longoria. According to the TIME’S UP website, the initiative includes a legal defense fund that will financially support low-income victims of workplace sexual abuse. TIME’S UP also has plans to support legislation that would end workplace nondisclosure agreements that prevent victims from pursuing legal action if they are sexually abused at work, and fight for better representation of women (especially women of color and LGBT women) across industries.
In an open letter published in the New York Times on New Years Day, the women behind TIME’S UP wrote that they were inspired by a letter of solidarity to women in Hollywood from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance). 700,000 women farmworkers co-signed an open letter of solidarity published by TIME to the women of Hollywood in November, writing, “We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well. Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work.”
The response from the 300 women behind TIME’S UP thanked the Alianza for its support, and noted the need for better representation of the most marginalized women, writing, “we seek equal representation, opportunities, benefits and pay for all women workers, not to mention greater representation of women of color, immigrant women, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women, whose experiences in the workplace are often significantly worse than their white, cisgender, straight peers.”
The women of TIME’S UP also wrote in their letter that they “acknowledge the heavy weight of our common experience of being preyed upon, harassed, and exploited by those who abuse their power and threaten our physical and economic security.” Indeed, many victims of workplace sexual abuse are too afraid to speak up because they could lose their jobs, and thus their source of income. For victims who don’t earn much money to begin with, losing a job could endanger their whole livelihood and possibly that of their family.
To help make it safer for working-class women to come forward if they are being abused at work, the women behind TIME’S UP put $13 million in donations to a legal defense fund for those without the financial means to take on their abusers. TIME’S UP also made a GoFundMe page for the fund in late December, which has raised an additional $936,310. The GoFundMe page explains that the legal defense fund will be run through the National Women’s Law Center, and “will provide subsidized legal support to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace and while in pursuit of their careers.”
It’s difficult for any victim of abuse to come forward or seek justice, especially when they fear they will lose their jobs. For working-class and low-income women who survive paycheck-to-paycheck, the ability to continue paying bills and also hire legal help could be a game-changer for various industries. The show of solidarity across income brackets and industries is hopefully a sign of more truly empowering things to come for working women in the coming year.
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(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic + Kevin Winter/Getty)