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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

So, You've Decided to Speak

This is for my sisters and brothers who have decided to break their silence about harassment and abuse that they have experienced. You are brave. You are strong. I have been where you are, and I have learned some things.

The first rule is this: nobody is entitled to your story of harassment or grooming or abuse. Nobody.

If you decide to speak up, I have some tips.

Know that reporters will believe you. They have heard more than they can print, more than you could ever imagine. Your story will not shock them. They will believe you.

You can choose which reporters you speak to. You can choose which questions to answer. You can ask what their angle is on this story. This is your story. It’s okay to plan in advance what you want to say. You can even email them a written statement, if talking about it is too much.

The reporters you share your story with may not be able to tell you when the article documenting your story will go live. Waiting for this is hard. Have something to do to occupy your mind and time. Make it something that will absorb your attention as much as possible: a movie, a dinner out with friends, long walks with friends, planning a party, surfing the internet for cat .gifs, completing another chapter of that novel you’re working on (and another chapter, and another chapter…).

Know that if you have made a formal complaint about your harasser through the appropriate channels -- the organizers of whatever conference you met them at, the publisher that sent them on that marketing tour, the HR department if you’ve been harassed at work, the producer of their movie or show, wherever – it will add weight to anything published in the press. You don’t have to do this – you don’t have to speak up at all – but it is a good idea to do this.

When the article about your harasser is published, there is one rule: Don’t read the comments. Have friends who will pass the supportive ones on to you, and who will respond in a clear and rational manner to those comments that are less supportive. You have done enough by sharing your story; you are not obliged to educate the rest of the world on how to be an ally to a harassment or abuse survivor.

More reporters might try to contact you. They will find you anywhere you have an online presence. This can get overwhelming. You don’t have to honor every request. You can also have a trusted friend field requests, and summarize them for you, so you can decide who to speak to. You can choose not to speak to any of them.

It’s okay to take a break from Social Media. Have your trusted group of friends pass on supportive messages to you. Or simply shut off your DMs and ignore messages for a while. Pin a post or tweet that says you’re taking a break, and take a break. The online world will still be there when you get back, and you won’t miss anything important.

Once you return to social media, the supportive messages might be overwhelming. Set boundaries around your time: block off a certain amount of time for thanking people, and then log off for the day. It’s easy to let this take over your life, this cycle of speak-wait-read-thank-speak. Don’t let it. Se aside time to live your life.

It’s also okay to cull your social media contacts. You probably have a few apologizers in there: the ones who will insist that since they thought this person was amazing, they just can’t believe he or she behaved this way. Or that what he or she did to you was no big deal. Your harasser DID behave this way, and what they did to you WAS a big deal. So go ahead and mute or block the apologists. If you have an idea of who they might be – maybe they stuck up for Casey Affleck, or had a hard time believing Dylan Farrow’s statement about Woody Allen – then you can mute or block them in advance. You don’t need their apologism in your life.

You also probably know some people who are trying to please everybody: they’ll tie themselves in knots trying to find a way to support you without angering whomever harassed or abused you. They are too self-centered to think about how their statements will affect you, and because they can’t center you even as they proclaim their support of you, it’s okay if you don’t want to listen to them. It’s okay to mute or block or unfriend them for now.

If you have friends in common with your harasser who choose not to support you, you can delete their numbers. It’s okay. New friendships will emerge, and they will lift you.

Some of the people who will reach out to you after your story becomes public will have stories of their own. You can choose to listen and support them, or you can choose not to. You need to take care of yourself first, and you cannot support others in the way that they need if you are not looking after yourself.

It’s okay to forgive your harasser.

It’s okay not to.

In the space between the moment you speak and the moment the world responds to your words, there will be silence. This silence will be weighty, but know that it is the silence of a thousand privately-held conversations that are (mostly) not about you. They are about your harasser or abuser: they are the conversations of your industry trying to accommodate this new view of your harasser – this view of them as A Harasser – within its psyche, and to respond appropriately. It is a hard silence to bear. It is hard to be left out of a conversation that started with your voice. It does not feel normal. Have friends on whom you can call to remind you what Normal feels like.

Throughout all of this, breathe.

Eat cake, or ice cream. Or both. Breathe again. Release everything.

Go on and live your life, free of silence. You are brave. You are free.

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