Although the #Metoo movement, was coined and started by the activist Tarana Burke, it reached its peak and got a full force tie to Hollywood to show what goes on behind the scenes. The movement has proved the undeniable fact that sexual harassment transcends different cultures, societies and socioeconomic statuses.
People of all ages, races, gender and socioeconomic status are faced with gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual harassment on the daily. Sexual harassment is a behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation. This behavior violates a person’s dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim.
Even though the movement has been putting predators behind bars and calling out sexual harassment appropriators and enablers, it seems like the push for accountability is tinted by class dimension. Sure, many assaulters are now put behind bars and many survivors have gotten back their voices (many have even become voices for others), but through the cracks, slip vulnerable women of low income.
In order to better understand why women endure sexual harassment, it is important to look at some of the underlying causes of this phenomenon, mainly poverty. More often than not, there is a reciprocal relationship between poverty and sexual violence. Poverty is among the root causes of sexual violence and often has a daily presence in a victim’s life. Women in impoverished communities are highly likely to be confronted with sexual assault. Statistics show that poverty increases people’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation and harassment in schools, work place, prostitution, sex trafficking and others.
A poor society is one that is not well educated, and that means even more uneducated women. Women in these communities are less educated and are not aware of their rights. Women in poor communities, usually rural areas in developing countries, are married off at a young age which increases the severity and frequency of violence perpetrated by a partner. These women are reliant on their partners to survive and are usually coerced into pregnancy and bearing children. The cycle then continues as children born in these households usually follow the pattern. In some cases, women in these communities flee from an abusive partner seeking a better life. However, having no money, food, or shelter to survive, these women often find themselves in worst conditions where they get sexually exploited and violated.
This kind of abuse and harassment isn’t just limited to women in rural areas where women aren’t educated and less aware. These problems also reside in cities where women are fairly educated. In developed cities, income disparities play a role when it comes to susceptibility to sexual assault. Studies show that prevalence of sexual assault increases as annual household income decreases. Women with lower income are faced with cumulative stress and are already facing economic hardships which makes them less likely to report sexual assaults in fears of jeopardizing their economic wellbeing.
Women in the working world are also usually at the mercy of male superiors where they need to stay on good terms for hiring and advancement opportunities. This deprives them of security and independence and further pressures them into enduring sexual assault. These women are usually employed in low wedge jobs that society naturally deems “women jobs” such as waitresses, house helps, secretaries, and sex workers. These women learn to endure sexual harassment in fear of retaliation and victimization. Women in service industries also rely on tips and forming “peaceful” relationships with bosses and customers which hinders them from speaking out about sexual harassment because they fear losing their much-needed paychecks. These factors keep increasing women’s risk of being assaulted by intimate partners that they can’t leave.
Another reason women in impoverished communities don’t report sexual assault is because believing sexual victims is not fairly extended to all victims equally. In our society, poorer women are less likely to be credible. Knowing this, abusers are more likely to target victims who are less likely to report their abuse. Poverty aggravates the risk of sexual abuse becoming a cycle that reinforces itself in impoverished communities in which abusers are highly likely not held accountable for their actions.
The #Metoo movement has taken hits at sexual predators in Hollywood and other high-ranking jobs and paved the way for many women and men to come out with their stories and find justice, but the struggles of women in low wedge industries continue to be underrepresented and their injustice ignored. It is time the movement addresses women on the other end of the stick and make much needed, nuanced and targeted solutions happen since the highly privileged are highly likely to drive change.