Society is becoming woke to the decades, centuries – millennia – that women have endured as silent victims of a predatory culture. This is a good thing.

But such birth does not come without pain and blood. As the pendulum swings in a corrective direction, the risk that it will swing too far is real. Indeed, some have questioned if it is not already too late.

What is the danger of extremism in our reactions?

Innocent men who find their reputations destroyed, their careers damaged or erased, their lives upended beyond repair based on the word of another given absolute, priority value. Accusations equal to physical evidence or objective corroboration. Guilt presumed over innocence. An abandonment of any sense of due process. The failure to allow the accused to face his accuser.

A witch-hunt mentality that heightens skepticism regarding any and all claims of abuse. The potential of coming full circle as suspicion of motives and fear of accusation-used-as-weapon causes people to cast victims as villains. Uncertainty and paranoia. Is someone coming for your husband? Your son? Your father? Your brother?

The flattening of the curve of heinousness of crime, rape of a teen equal to an uncomfortably long hug or a misplaced hand, diminishing the real suffering and pain of true victims. Zero tolerance leading straight to automatic death penalties for all, regardless of severity of crime.

A lack of standard definitions or shared parameters, where one woman’s flirtation is another woman’s assault, prosecution or leniency reliant solely on the subjective interpretation of a single person. Arbitrary thresholds that delineate “accident” or “mistake” from “serial” or “predatory”. Miscommunication creating criminals guilty of misunderstanding rather than evil intent.

The victimization of women as a whole. A message that we are not autonomous individuals with the power to drive our own lives but instead weaker beings reliant on society’s outrage and condemnation to punish those who have wronged us. An abdication of our responsibility to speak up and say “NO”. It is never our fault, but it is within our power to cry foul.

We, as a society, need to believe women. But we also need to truly understand what “believing” means. It’s not what people seem to be thinking.

Believing women isn’t taking accusations as absolute truths and punishing the accused without due process.

Believing women is treating accusations as serious potential violations and crimes and respecting victims throughout the process.

Believing is not calling accusers liars. Ever.

Believing women is committing to investigations to uncover the truth, taking those truths seriously, and enacting or enforcing policies to ensure real change occurs.

Believing women is condemnation of victim-blaming or slut-shaming.

Believing women is eradicating the social norms that undermine a woman’s ability to speak up when she’s been mistreated. Putting a stop to the “nice girls don’t make trouble” mentality. Encouraging women to risk appearing rude rather than silently suffer.

Believing women is empowering all people to come forward when they feel they have been treated improperly, without fear of recriminations or an undue burden being placed upon them to prove their claims, or the prospect of undergoing a soul-sucking destruction of their character.

Believing women is holding all men accountable to the same standards of conduct, regardless of rank or wealth or power.

Believing women is teaching our sons to be more aware of their actions, to respect women as human beings and not as sexual objects, to be strong and stand up when they perceive abuse.

Believing women is giving our daughters the strength and support that enables them to demand respect and to speak out immediately when they have been wronged.

Believing women is repudiating media, advertising, gaming, entertainment and other cultural avenues that perpetuate the message that women are sex objects, trophies awarded to men, valuable for their bodies.

Believing women is companies, governments and communities enacting policies that encourage positive work and living environments, having a user-friendly system in place to report and subsequently investigate potential violations and to deal with perpetrators accordingly.

Believing women is creating a society where the election of any official who has been credibly accused of wrongdoing is unthinkable by all.

Believing is listening.

Believing is commitment to finding the truth and then punishing the appropriate crime.

Believing is determination to change the system for the betterment of all.

Right now, it may feel we’ve made huge strides towards ending the pervasive problem of sexual predation, but the truth is, we’ve simply placed a bandage over the gaping wound. Telling women “We believe you and will now punish all accused sexual predators” is not solving the problem. We must erase the conditions that allow this cancer to grow in the first place. We must have all of it to be truly woke.

And it is incumbent upon us women to find our courage and speak out when we are wronged. Society has indicated it is finally ready to listen, and we must walk through that open door. It’s not easy. It’s very hard, and it’s certainly not fair. But when has anything ever been easy or fair? We are up to the task. We give birth all the time.

~ Jenna Harper