TIME Person Of The Year 2017: The Silence Breakers
The people who have broken their silence on sexual assault and harassment span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe.
Their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results. For their influence on 2017, they are TIME’s Person of the Year.
Over the course of six weeks, TIME interviewed dozens of people representing at least as many industries, all of whom had summoned extraordinary personal courage to speak out about sexual harassment at their jobs. They often had eerily similar stories to share.
Here are some of the most powerful moments from the interviews with these courageous humans.
(This might be an emotional read for some of you so please be kind to yourself today.)
In 1997, just before Ashley Judd’s career took off, she was invited to a meeting with Harvey Weinstein at a Beverly Hills hotel. Astounded and offended by Weinstein’s attempt to coerce her into bed, Judd managed to escape. But instead of keeping quiet about the kind of encounter that could easily shame a woman into silence, she began spreading the word. Finally, in October—when Judd went on the record about Weinstein’s behavior in the New York Times, the first star to do so—the world listened.
When movie stars don’t know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us?
What hope is there for the janitor who’s being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she’ll lose the job she needs to support her children?
For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won’t take no for an answer?
For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can’t escape?
This moment is born of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.
Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose.
These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced.
When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring it for years.
In almost every case, the person described not only the vulgarity of the harassment itself—years of lewd comments, forced kisses, opportunistic gropes—but also the emotional and psychological fallout from those advances. Almost everybody described wrestling with a palpable sense of shame. Had she somehow asked for it? Could she have deflected it? Was she making a big deal out of nothing?
According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of transgender people report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, both in and out of the workplace.
Juana Melara, who has worked as a hotel housekeeper for decades, says she and her fellow housekeepers didn’t complain about guests who exposed themselves or masturbated in front of them for fear of losing the paycheck they needed to support their families.
Taylor Swift says she was made to feel bad about the consequences that her harasser faced. After she complained about a Denver radio DJ who reached under her skirt and grabbed her rear end, Mueller was fired. He sued Swift for millions in damages. She countersued for a symbolic $1 and then testified about the incident in August. Mueller’s lawyer asked her, on the witness stand, whether she felt bad that she’d gotten him fired.
Actors and writers and journalists and dishwashers and fruit pickers alike: they’ve had enough. What had manifested as shame has now exploded into outrage. Fear becomes fury.