Is Billie Eilish Right — Have All Girls And Women Been Victims Of Sexual Misconduct?

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Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish used her Vogue cover story to address the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct.

The 19-year-old singer told British Vogue, "It’s really not at all about one person. You might think, ‘It’s because she’s in the music industry’ – no, dude. It’s everywhere."

She then went on to say she doesn’t “know one girl or woman who hasn't had a weird experience, or a really bad experience. And men, too – young boys are taken advantage of constantly.””

Though we wish her statement was an exaggeration, you might find that the women and girls in your life would agree.

How common is sexual harassment and misconduct?

While exact numbers are hard to come by for a variety of reasons, one study in the U.K. found that 97% of women between the ages of 18 to 24 have been victims of sexual harassment.

Similar researchers in the U.S. found that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

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So, what does it mean that women to experience sexual misconduct in these high numbers and what are we doing about it?

When Billie Eilish says sexual misconduct is “everywhere” — what does this mean?

Eilish says harassment, abuse, and misconduct are “everywhere” — and the data agrees.

These studies account for everything from being catcalled or getting unwanted comments of a sexual nature to physical harassment, cyber harassment, and sexual assaults.

For many women, these are daily experiences that often go underreported and unacknowledged. They have become so normalized that they are just part and parcel of the female experience.

Licensed clinical social worker and Gestalt therapist Christine Vargo tells us that the adjustments women make daily to protect themselves from sexual abuse are deeply damaging on a social and psychological level.

“The behavior is so deeply ingrained in our conditioning that these adjustments are often subconscious,” she says.

“Whether it's creating a safety plan with our friends to confirm we're home safely after being out together at night, to carrying our keys between our fingers if we're walking home alone at night, the energy required to ensure our safety is exhausting — even more so for BIPOC.”

Often, women are made to feel like these situations are not as egregious as more severe forms of assault.

But the weight and trauma of these experiences are persistent struggles in the lives of women like Eilish.

Eilish is carrying a torch previously held by Lady Gaga, Kesha, and the entire #MeToo movement who called out the high rates of sexual assault in the music industry, Hollywood, and across all of society.

But at 19 years old, this isn’t a reality Eilish or any other young woman should have to know. Nor can we keep waiting on women to become victims so they can be the voice of a problem they didn’t create.

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Eilish is using her music to speak out against abuse.

Eilish’s emotional new balled, “Your Power,” sounds like the inner workings of a woman’s journal as she details what one would assume is a deeply personal account of manipulation and abuse.

She sings lines like, “Try not to abuse your power” and “I thought that I was special, you made me feel like it was my fault.”

But Eilish speaks for and to millions with these lyrics. She tells British Vogue, “It’s an open letter to people who take advantage — mostly men.”

She warns listeners to take stock of the lyrics and not to try and figure out who it is about, but rather what it says about how common sexual misconduct is.

To fixate on the details of what happened to Eilish would neglect the reality that her experience is far from being an anomaly. In fact, statistically, it would be more surprising if Eilish had not been targetted by sexual abuse at some point.

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Women are not responsible for preventing sexual abuse.

Eilish, at one point or another, has been all the conflicting things women are told to be. She’s been successful and bold. She has been vulnerable. She has covered up her body. She has worn more revealing outfits.

But she has also been persecuted for all of it. Eilish is a testament to the reality that women can never do right in a society that will find ways to victim-blame no matter what.

She is about as confident and strong as a 19-year-old woman can get but we’re lying to girls by telling them this is enough.

Of course, it is important for women to be empowered. But in doing so we inadvertently place women at the center of this problem, as if to imply there is a level of confidence or empowerment that makes us immune to sexual harassment.

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This kind of logic can betray women when they find themselves in vulnerable situations or become victims of sexual violence.

“You can always be taken advantage of,” Eilish says, “That’s a big problem in the world of domestic abuse or statutory rape – girls that were very confident and strong-willed finding themselves in situations where they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the victim here?’”

The dynamics of abuse and how normalized it is can prevent women from speaking up or even acknowledging their trauma to themselves.

Vargo tells us that because abuse is typically perpetrated by someone a victim knows, women struggle even more to accept the reality of their experience.

“Having the courage to come forward and acknowledge abuse or mistreatment from someone known to the survivor requires a real awareness that their relationship to the perpetrator will shift.”

Eilish describes how women’s realizations that they are abuse victims can be “embarrassing and humiliating and demoralizing.” But it often feels this way because we keep making women responsible for other people's sexual misconduct.

When we acknowledge that sexual abuse and harassment is not only a problem largely created by men but a problem that cannot be solved until we hold men accountable for it, women will no longer carry the weight of this shame.

That said, until we get there, victims should know that recovering from abuse, while difficult, is possible.

Vargo tells us that survivors work through trauma differently and will often have to try out different approaches with therapists or trauma support.

“Moving through the process takes time, self-compassion, and developing a resilience to the shame associated with the experience,” she says.

“Knowing and understanding the blame needs to be placed on the perpetrator rather than the survivor is part of the work.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.