Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, two undeniably funny people, found themselves tasked with the difficult job of balancing comedy with stern condemnation of sexual harassment and assault while at the Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey on Saturday night. Yet, Vanity Fair reports that the two rose to the challenge and managed to have a meaningful – and dare we say even comical – discussion that surely resonated with everyone in attendance.
"It is a tsunami of penises! Coming onto the shore," Deadline reports Bee said jokingly to break the ice on the important topic. The statement was all too real during a time in which allegations of sexual misconduct continue to pile up against once-beloved actors, TV hosts, and journalists.
"It's heartbreaking, but it's not surprising probably to most women I know in the comedy community," Bee reportedly said. "It's definitely not surprising to any woman who lives on planet Earth. The speed and ferocity at which everything is coming forward at the moment is impressive to me, and I'm happy to be alive in this moment; in a moment where people are feeling freer with their stories and we don't have to live with shame."
Unfortunately for so many survivors, that internalized feeling of shame could take a long time to go away. According to the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, it's common for survivors to be inundated with feelings of fear, guilt, and embarrassment after they've been assaulted or harassed.
The Guardian reports that an alarming 27% of women surveyed in a Women's Health and RAINN survey said they'd been shamed by a medical professional after being seeking attention post-abuse. That's on top of the comments survivors hear and read daily from loved ones and strangers in person and online such as, "you should have come forward sooner," and "you should have walked away in the moment."
Another reason why survivors don't always share their experiences is because they're afraid they won't be believed, especially when the predator is a high-profile figure. Adding to that fear is the fact that sometimes people choose not to listen to vocalized concerns. For instance, Louis C.K.'s inappropriate behavior was well-known amongst women in the comedy scene. In at least one instance, a reporter who'd caught wind of these accusations asked Louis' friend Jon Stewart if he believed the allegations were true. At the time, Stewart disregarded the question. Now, he claims to be "stunned." Colbert, too, told Bee that he had no idea about Louis' past.
"I feel dumb," Vanity Fair reports Colbert said. "I didn't know about Louis. I didn't even know about Cosby. And, that's dumb."
This isn't to say that anyone who didn't realize a friend or colleague has ever behaved horribly is somehow at fault; it's more a lesson that we need to take people seriously, especially when the allegations are about someone we love. And if that means denouncing the people we care about, then so be it. Nobody said putting an end to rape culture would be comfortable or easy.
Bee succinctly summed up what's at stake for sexual predators when she said, "There are real consequences to people's real life behavior and sometimes the consequence is you lose your job and you lose a lot when these things are revealed."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).