Hollywood celebrities from Alyssa Milano to Debra Messing and Patricia Arquette have said, “Me too,” a nod to the movement that is aimed at showing the magnitude of sexual harassment and assault. Speaking at the Golden Globe Awards, Oprah Winfrey said, “Time’s up,” adding the movement is for every “culture, race, religion, politic or workplace.” In Bergen County, leaders, influencers and organizers from every sector of society are saying, “[The] Time is now.”
YWCA Bergen County with NJ Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle have established a Time Is Now Action Coalition comprised of diverse government, business, labor, education, legal and non-profit leaders who want to step forward in this critical historic moment and take meaningful action on barriers to equality.
“The fact is there is a continuum of sexual violence, and we’ve learned from the ‘Me Too’ campaign something that every woman already knows: these are very common experiences,” said YWCA Bergen County CEO Helen Archontou during a Jan. 12 press conference announcing the initiative. “We are finally at the point in our culture that we cannot deny this any longer. As Hollywood proclaimed, ‘Time’s up,’ we’ve proclaimed today, ‘The time is now.’”
A staggering 17.7 million American women have reported a sexual assault since 1998, according to the National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey.
NJ’s 39th Legislative District Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi is unfortunately not a stranger to that statistic.
“I was raped as a teenager,” said Schepisi, who added that she never shared her story until roughly 4 years ago. “I participated in a Zonta Rave Walk and had my daughter, who at the time was about 10 years old, with me. I realized she is getting older and this is something that no matter how successful, how self confident or how accomplished I have been in my life, I have never been able to bring myself to publicly say the words ‘I was raped.’”
Thanks to her position as an assemblywoman and her voice, Schepisi realized it was “incumbent” upon her to share her story. She’s a proud supporter of the Time Is Now Action Coalition.
Also supporting the coalition is Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III.
“Women deserve full political, social and economical equality,” he said. “I stand in solidarity with women in Bergen County and women everywhere who have raised their voice to say, ‘Me too’ or ‘The time is up.’”
While the Time Is Now Action Coalition begins as a Bergen County-based initiative, the goal is for it to become a statewide effort. According to its organizers, the coalition will create a clearinghouse of resources to raise awareness, educate and provide necessary services to survivors; identify gaps in services and outline plans to fill them; facilitate proactive commitment by employers to create safe workplaces free from discrimination, harassment and violence; and encourage all to take action where we live, work, worship, gather and play.
“Never doubt that a small group of intelligent, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that can,” said NJ’s 37th Legislative District Assemblywoman Huttle, who has sponsored laws such as the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act; the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights; the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act; and the end of the Return Home NJ program to ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities receive proper care. “For too long we have been silent, and not taking action is no longer an option. Let’s begin to change the culture together today.”
In order to “change the culture,” the Time Is Now Action Coalition is inviting all – elected officials at every level, corporate executives and entrepreneurs, educators from preschools through universities, attorneys and judges, labor leaders, advocacy groups and faith-based leaders – to sign on to the Time Is Now Coalition, which can be done through their website at www.ywcabergencounty.org/time-is-now-action-coalition.
Further, all members of the community are invited to have their voices heard by participating in live and virtual town halls.
“The reality of it is we have housekeepers, we have bakery workers, we have corporate heads and we have everyone in between that has had their experiences, and they have their stories to tell,” said Archontou. “It’s important for us to hear what has happened here in our county. It’s also important for us to hear what they think might have helped in their situation, in the environment that they work in.”
In-person town halls began in February with the goal of sparking discussions that will lead to the development of practices and policies to thwart sexual violence in the workplace. For a complete list of live town halls or to virtually participate in a town hall, visit www.ywcabergencounty.org/time-is-now-action-coalition-town-hall.
“Together we will do it, because we have more to do,” said Archontou. “As we hear the reports day after day, the answer is to turn our weariness and doubt into action by finding concrete ways to support survivors and their loved ones, raise awareness and educate ourselves to change our culture. The time is now to heed the call-to-action sparked by the stories we have heard and the many we know to be still unspoken. The time is now to end sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.”
To learn more or help build support and momentum for the Time Is Now Action Coalition, like, comment and share on Facebook (@YWCABergenCounty), Twitter (@YWBergen), Instagram (@ywca_bc) and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/company/1758904).
By Jessica Humphrey-Cintineo