Last October, more than 140 women in California politics signed a letter stating they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted at work. It launched what came to be known as the “We Said Enough” campaign.
CapRadio Insight host Beth Ruyak spoke with Samantha Corbin, executive director of the We Said Enough nonprofit group, and Adama Iwu, Corbin’s co-founder who was featured on the cover of TIME magazine after the letter came out. Here’s some of their conversation.
On expectations for the movement
Iwu: When we were writing it and working on it and sending it around to women that we worked with, my main thing was, hopefully, this will serve as a chilling effect. Kind of just a shot across the bow like look, how many women are actually really angry about this? And we might In the past have laughed it off or let it go or brushed it under the rug, but we’re tired of that. And I really just thought OK, maybe people will see this, realize how angry we are, and some of this behavior will stop. That was really my big hope for this. The fact that it’s gone so much further and that so many people in so many different industries, and different legislatures and countries around the world have said ‘we’re really angry about this too,’ is more than I could have possibly hoped or dreamed for.
On the letter’s reach
Iwu: We’ve heard from women in different industries saying, ‘Oh, it’s like that in politics? It’s like that here, too.’ In academia, in science, in national security, in the nonprofit space. The stories we’ve heard are all very similar. Women are having a very common experience. That was very shocking to a lot of men, to hear that ‘Oh my god, is it really every woman I know in every job she’s ever had?’ And every woman has emphatically said ‘Yes, that is the experience.’
On whether or not women are speaking up more than they used to
Corbin: There’s something of a playbook at this point for those of us that have been following the national news and have been personally involved in hearing from many victims and seeing their experience be lived out. These type of incidents are like cockroaches: if there’s one on the floor, there’s ten on the wall. Abusers tend not to abuse just once, they tend to abuse with some kind of regularity. And unfortunately in the past, and even at the level of Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford, there are no perfect victims. There’s always reasons that if you wanted to discredit someone you could tear them apart. And that fear really does keep women from coming forward. There is no fame and glory to be had in being a nationally known victim of sexual assault. That’s farcical, this assumption that women come forward to get attention or sort of make these stories up.
When we launched the letter, one of the mottos we had was ‘no more Twitter justice’ — this idea that women are having to trot their victimization out in the press to be believed and have action taken. When in reality, if you had functioning systems in which women could confidentially report, could be heard, if there were systems in place to actually be responsive to those issues and be proactive, and promote resolution and healing, you wouldn’t have the need for people to continuously go to the press and go public with this type of incident … But by and large we’re still really lacking the type of systems and best practices that will end the deluge of people feeling they have to go to the press to get recourse.
On lawmakers being held accountable
Beth Ruyak: There have been some small number of lawmakers who’ve lost their jobs. There have been policy and procedural changes, outside entities who will review complaints and look at investigations. You’ve spoken to us, at least a couple of times, about being frustrated by the slow pace of change or the lack of true change. Where are you now one year later?
Iwu: We’re still frustrated by the lack of true change and real change. The legislature has made some steps, they’ve actually allocated a budget, they’ve put forth a plan to start having a way to deal with these claims in a little bit better of a way. We are still trying to find out what happens in an investigation, what is the outcome of an investigation, what is the process that they go through? We’re still waiting, and I think that’s really frustrating for a lot of people … People are losing the timidity and fear about speaking up about things that happened, but we still have to have a process where those who are accused and those who bring accusations know exactly how that’s going to be handled and adjudicated and can have some kind of expected outcome and a timeline for that.
On how many women and men they've heard from
Corbin: It’s interesting, we’ve had reporters ask ‘have things sort of slowed down?’. And the reality is, they really haven’t. I’m not sure a week has gone by in the last year that I haven’t heard from someone who’s been victimized themselves, or someone calling on behalf of a friend, wondering what resources they can avail themselves of. And the opportunities to speak, even, in front of large groups of people where almost every woman in the room has been victimized and is looking for solutions for these types of systemic problems in their own community. I would say that it’s basically every woman I speak to over the course of the last year.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. It was adapted for the web by Sammy Caiola. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.