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Sexual harassment allegations will change America

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Earlier this week Merriam-Webster unveiled its word of the year: feminism.

Feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” according to Merriam-Webster.

I could not have chosen a better word.

In 2017, America witnessed emboldened men and women make real strides toward the equality that feminism idealizes.

One of the most harrowing examples is the men and women such as Timothy Heller and Roberto Cavazos who came forward to share their stories of sexual assault.

The brave individuals who spoke out started a national conversation about sexual assault and harassment, igniting the #MeToo movement that gave people from all walks of life a chance to share their personal stories of sexual harassment on social media, shedding light on a topic that for so long went unspoken.

What made the #MeToo movement so poignant was the humanity of it; friends, family and people that you know and care for shared dark and personal parts of their lives.

It showed that sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or occupation.

It showed that predators are not just untouchable politicians or Hollywood royalty, but people in our communities — people often least expected.

These predators, no matter who they are or what position they hold, need to be held accountable for their actions.

The movement began in October with allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer and president of The Weinstein Company.

What began with a few women sharing their stories with The New York Times has snowballed into dozens of women coming forward to speak out against Weinstein, accusing him of sexual assault, harassment and even rape.

After these credible allegations came out, ties were irrevocably cut. Weinstein was subsequently stripped of his memberships with the British Academy of Television and Arts (BAFTA), the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) and the Producers Guild of America (PGA).

As a finishing blow, he was fired from his own company, The Weinstein Group.

The stories that emerged against Weinstein served as a tipping point and began the avalanche of allegations against people in positions of power who systematically preyed upon those beneath them.

Next was Kevin Spacey, then Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman and at least 20 others who operated within the sphere of Hollywood were slammed with allegations of sexual misconduct.

They too fell from grace in the public eye. Many lost their careers and, at the very least, their credibility. Not only as professionals in their respective fields but as decent human beings that audiences everywhere admired.

However, while things were shaking up in Hollywood, a storm was already brewing on Capitol Hill.

In November, allegations surfaced against two democratic lawmakers, Sen. Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers.

Franken was accused of forcibly kissing female comedian Leann Tweed in 2006 and was photographed appearing to grope Tweed’s chest while she slept on a plane.

While Franken was initially hesitant to step down, pressure from his colleagues eventually lead to his resignation.

Conyers paid $27,000 to a former staffer who accused him of sexual assault. A House Ethics Investigation was launched and several other women came forward with more allegations.

In early December, he resigned.

Several republican lawmakers in Washington D.C. were also accused of sexual misconduct.

Congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas paid $84,000 in settlement money to a former staffer who accused him of sexual assault. House Majority Speaker Paul Ryan pushed for Farenthold to retire, and Farenthold since announced he will not seek re-election.

Another republican congressman, Trent Franks of Arizona, resigned Dec. 8 amid allegations that he asked two female staffers to act as surrogates for Franks and his wife.

Franks denied any ill will but apologized for making the female staffers uncomfortable, according to a Dec. 7 press release.

And of course, the metaphorical White Whaleof sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump.

The credible allegations against Trump include Samantha Holvey, who participated in the Miss USA Pageants and accused President Trump of peeping on pageant contestants some of whom were underage changing backstage.

Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks also came forward accusing Trump of groping and kissing them.

And there is the incendiary Access Hollywood tape from 2005 in which Trump can be heard bragging about sexually assaulting an unnamed woman.

“I just start kissing them,” Trump can be heard saying in the tape. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.”

While these allegations did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, they began a slow-burning fire that gained wind with the outpouring of allegations in Hollywood that spread to Washington later in the year.

Just last week, the people of Alabama voted against Roy Moore, a republican judge who was running for the U.S. Senate. Several women came forward in the months leading up to the election alleging that Moore forced himself upon them when some of the women were just teenagers. He ultimately lost the election to democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.

The national conversation that started has spread, and people from all over America are voicing their discontent at the complacency in the face of sexual misconduct that has gone on for too long at not only the national level, but the local level as well.

At our very own Theatre UCF department, a decision was made to halt the production of the play “The Day Before Yesterday,” written by Israel Horovitz, who has been accused of sexual misconduct. The theater department will instead perform “Boy Gets Girl,” a play that highlights the injustice of sexual assault and the baggage it leaves with those affected by it.

“We are sending a clear message that we stand by people who may be in this situation,” UCF Director of the School of Performing Arts Michael Wainstein said. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and felt it was more important to give voice to the victims rather than directly supporting this playwright at this time.”

I am so proud of the Theatre UCF department for taking this position and standing with women and men who have been affected by sexual harassment and assault.

Sexual harassment, assault and misconduct have no place in society, and to the brave people who came forward to tell their stories, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The actions of those individuals have changed our country for the better. Every day, more people are being conscious of the implications of sexual misconduct and are beginning to take action against it.

I can only hope that more people use the #MeToo tidal wave of support to continue to share their stories and make their voices heard.