With the collective power of the MeToo movement behind them, women of New Jersey’s Time is Now Action Coalition say they’re ready to take the next step in offering solutions to eradicate the pervasive problems of sexual harassment and assault. They’re determined to make the most of a platform they’ve been seeking for years.
“We have a lot of celebrities publicly sharing their stories. Your average person who works in a restaurant or works in an office may not feel that level of support and community behind them, and that’s what our intention is behind this effort,” said Helen Archontou, CEO of YWCA Bergen County.
Through a series of community town halls in February, the coalition gathered stories from 120 sexual assault survivors. Each offered their own take with an underlying theme: the need to address current problems with a long-term critical shift in our culture.
“We’re announcing four work groups that we are mobilizing, and each of the work groups will have a legislative liaison and that liaison will work with the legislative committees and a larger steering committee that will be able to report back to be able to figure out which different areas we need to address these issues,” Archontou said.
Those areas include:
- Starting an early education program that runs through high school,
- Changing overall industry practices so that victims don’t fear retribution,
- Creating safer spaces for victims to report crimes beyond the HR department,
- And providing better resources to support the survivors
“Thirty-three years ago when I was attacked, I did speak to my friends and they heard me for about five minutes and then it was back to business as normal,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “So I think now is a new time and new place, and I’m really happy you’re grasping this moment and movement forward because it’s super important.”
“We need to start developing age appropriate programs in schools that both raise awareness and teach strategies for preventing sexual harassment, abuse and assault. We need to start teaching this to the girls and to the boys as early as in the preschool years. The seeds of predatory behavior can be planted in the young,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.
Huttle helped create the coalition. She’s introducing new legislation, like re-establishing the New Jersey Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault, along with leading the effort on items like equity pay with the support of the governor.
“We will use our resources to be a part of the education, the training, creating safe spaces, and we’re hoping to engage others so that the statistics go down, go down and go down,” said CWA New Jersey Senior Campaign Lead Estina Baker.
The final call to action is to start tackling the problem individually so that solutions aren’t solely left for industry leaders to decide. The panel called on residents to start sharing their stories, information, and resources locally, empowering everyone to be part of the change.