A diverse group of Johnson County residents came together on Tuesday to talk about the #MeToo movement — sexual assault, how it happens, and how to address the issue moving forward.
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, the Johnson County Library convened the discussion, asking local residents hard questions about domestic violence, sexual abuse and the effect power has on personal and professional relationships in the #MeToo era.
Ashley Fick, civic engagement librarian for Johnson County Library, said librarians picked the topic months ago, but now was a fitting time to broach the subject at the table given the attention paid to the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings last week.
“We also let the people here guide what they want to talk about, share their perspective and hear the perspectives of other people in a civil way where maybe you’re hearing from people who don’t share necessarily the exact same viewpoint as you,” Fick said.
Concerns persist across generations
Librarians started the conversation with open-ended questions, and participants chimed in with their thoughts in group discussion.
“It’s just something that is a cultural thing; people are finally standing up and saying this is wrong,” said Justin Bray, a Shawnee resident, adding that the issue of consent was never brought up in sex education.
Rich Kaufman, an Overland Park senior, said people just didn’t talk about sex, consent or assault when he was growing up. That’s why dialogue is important to have now.
Some older women in attendance told their younger counterparts still in high school that they hoped sexual assault wasn’t as much of a problem as it was when they were in school.
Some of the young teenage women said it was.
“It’s the norm now; I don’t know if people are willing to talk about it,” said Shelly Sagrero, a Shawnee Mission West student.
Others asked each other why sexual harassment happens so frequently.
Participants agreed it’s important to encourage people to report sexual assault as soon as it occurs, but the stigma surrounding victims discourages them from speaking up.
Christina G. Smith, an Overland Park resident, said the problem isn’t so much that no one will believe a victim, but trying to figure out what disclosing sexual assault will accomplish.
“What do we want in terms of restorative justice or in terms of steps forward?” Smith asked the group. “Because that’s the harder question to answer, I think. What do we do now? Even if it’s all out there, can anyone make it better?”