The Straits Times says

End the scourge of sexual bullying

The #MeToo campaign has shed light on a societal scourge involving prominent people who sexually harass or assault others in their sphere of influence. Actors, athletes and executives are among those who endured such acts in silence for fear that their dreams and careers would suffer if they were to speak up. What is appalling is that sexual predators were often shielded by others in the know, who placed a premium on secrecy over the safety of victims. Enablers who chose to be complicit so as to protect their own interests and those of their organisations share in the perpetrators' moral corruption.

The unfolding saga places the spotlight on the vital role of investigative journalism in exposing wrongdoing. It was The New York Times that in early October blew the cover on decades of cover-up with its reports on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's serial abuse of actresses dating back to 1990. Those reports helped give birth to the #MeToo hashtag, which has rallied millions around the world to speak up against harassment. Most victims are women but men, too, have suffered. Together, those who have spoken up have served the rich and powerful a much-needed reminder of the limits of their influence. To date, big names in entertainment, media and politics have been toppled after testimony by victims.

Singapore enjoys no immunity from this disease. As it turns out, workplace sexual harassment and acts of molest in public areas are not uncommon here. Those responsible feed on the shame of their victims, who are often vulnerable for reasons such as youth or lack of status. Civil society has stepped forward to help fight the scourge. Advocacy group Aware's new campaign against violence and a grassroots effort by technology entrepreneurs to gather more data on the extent of the harassment problem, need and deserve widespread community support. Educational efforts also need to be stepped up so that young victims especially will not blame themselves but instead speak up to protect self and others by informing their family and the police. Social attitudes towards victims of sex crimes play a big part in dispelling stigma and restoring dignity to victims. That remains a work in progress.

As with any social media campaign that goes viral, the ramifications are hard to predict. Now officially Time Magazine's Person of the Year, the #MeToo campaign looks set to keep up the momentum of bringing sexual transgressions to light. It should not, however, turn into an act of vendetta in which men are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Careers can be destroyed and reputations lost irrevocably were that to occur. Due process must be followed in all investigations of alleged sexual misconduct. The innocent deserve protection, regardless of gender. Otherwise, the campaign itself risks being tarnished.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'End the scourge of sexual bullying'. Print Edition | Subscribe