By Ellen McGirt
Updated: December 6, 2017 10:44 AM ET

The “silence-breakers” who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment are TIME’s Person of The Year for 2017. Now, it’s up to us to keep the silence broken.

TIME interviewed dozens of people in as many industries, all of whom had to overcome an often crushing fear of violence, retaliation and financial ruin to initially tell their stories:

In almost every case, they described not only the vulgarity of the harassment itself—years of lewd comments, forced kisses, opportunistic gropes—but also the emotional and psychological fallout from those advances. Almost everybody described wrestling with a palpable sense of shame. Had she somehow asked for it? Could she have deflected it? Was she making a big deal out of nothing?

For many, financial ruin was not the only thing they worried about.

Those who are often most vulnerable in society—immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income workers and LGBTQ people—described many types of dread. If they raised their voices, would they be fired? Would their communities turn against them? Would they be killed? According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of transgender people report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, both in and out of the workplace.

While the stories in the reporting are at times extraordinarily difficult to read, the conversations that must happen now can’t be avoided. And that’s going to take a collective effort to generate sustained courage, grace, and compassion.

Take a few minutes today to watch this video (or just read the account) of television personality John Oliver asking Dustin Hoffman questions about recent allegations made by Anna Graham Hunter that the actor had groped her when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1985 TV movie, “Death of a Salesman.”

Warning: It may make you uncomfortable. But it is also a lesson in public allyship at a time when we need it most.

“This is something we’re going to have to talk about because … it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver began. What followed were many, many minutes of excruciating back and forth, with Hoffman getting more defensive and the audience alternately squirming along while expressing discomfort or support.

The occasion was the anniversary screening of “Wag the Dog,” a 1997 film about spin doctors who are called in for damage control after the President of the United States is caught making sexual advances toward an underage girl. (Their advice? Start a war!)

So, there was a lot hanging in the air that night.

When Hoffman defended himself, Oliver pushed back. “It’s ‘not reflective of who I am’ — it’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “It is reflective of who you were. If you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. It feels like a cop-out to say ‘It wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”

It was the longest public conversation about sexual harassment involving a powerful accused man in the post #MeToo era that I’m aware of. But while Hoffman may have squirmed, Oliver did too. It wasn’t fun for either of them, and that’s why it matters so much: Oliver is a man.The playbook for being a good man in a violent world has been tossed and is being re-written in real time. Oliver risked the patience of a high-tone audience, not to mention his own personal brand, to help add a few pages.

“I can’t leave certain things unaddressed,” Oliver said from the stage. “The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why the … didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”


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