Time Magazine heralded "Silence Breakers," women who have spoken out and spoken up about sexual assault and harassment, as its Person of the Year, announced on Wednesday morning. The night before, local women leaders gathered to discuss the very same movement for #MeToo: A Community Response to Sexual Harassment.
The panel, organized by the Women's Rights and Empowerment Network, gathered at the Richland Library to stimulate a discussion about power, sexual harassment and what societal changes they think are necessary.
WREN CEO Ann Warner began the evening by proclaiming how "important" a meaningful conversation on the subject is to women in the Columbia community.
Other speakers included lawyer M. Malissa Burnette, co-founder of Shutt & McDaniel, PA., Kayce Singletary of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. Shannon Nix of USC's Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention & Prevention also sat on the panel.
Nix believes that to combat a culture of sexual harassment, society must first address the stigma surrounding sex.
“Our society is uncomfortable with talking about sex," she said. In her mind, this apprehension leads to misconceptions about victims and survivors.
Singletary agreed that removing the "shame" associated with sexual assault and harassment would be a significant step forward.
“The only way to prevent it is to change the culture," she said.
Cobb-Hunter stressed the need for better education as well as self-assessment.
“I would suggest that we all look in the mirror and look at what we let slide," she said.
Burnette leaned on her legal background to explain the intricacies of sexual harassment in the workplace. Burnette explained that harassment can be physical or verbal, anything that creates a hostile environment. Still, she clarified that it must be severe and pervasive to be illegal.
For women like attendee Dalays Lantigua, it was meaningful to join the conversation.
“Women’s inequality, in the workplace especially, is a strong issue for me," she said.
Harassment and assault were also subjects of interest at the final Student Government Senate meeting of the semester. Student Body President Ross Lordo announced that he had joined with other student leaders from around the nation in a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.
The letter "expresses concern" about her proposed revision to Title IX, national guidelines for how universities and colleges handle sexual assault cases,
"It's something that's I think is really important for us as a campus, to make sure that any victim of sexual assault feels that they are able to come forward," Lordo said to the Senate.