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Time names 'The Silence Breakers' Person of the Year

December 6, 2017

The anti-harassment movement has been given the title by Time magazine. The US publication called attention to the pervasive nature of sexual assault and the difficulty most victims face in getting justice.

Time Person of the year 2017
Image: Time

Time magazine announced on Wednesday that its Person of the Year for 2017 was "the Silence Breakers," referring to everyone who has come forward about sexual harassment and assault, casting light on a pervasive behavior that has long gone ignored or covered up.

"This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist," the magazine wrote.

"They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose."

The magazine's decision was applauded by, among others, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also lauded the courage of the women who have come forward to share their experiences.

"We have them to thank for the courage to break the silence over sexual assault and for the global debate that has ensued," Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, quoted her as saying on Twitter. 

The Weinstein effect

Featured prominently on the cover is actress Ashley Judd, one of the most high-profile accusers of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The unmasking of Weinstein, along with his network of enablers, lawyers and other employees who kept his serial harassment secret for decades by the New Yorker and the New York Times in October, is what opened the floodgates for hundreds of women to gain the courage to speak out against their attackers.

Judd says she told "everyone" she knew about the time Weinstein assaulted her at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills in 1997, but that nothing came of it.

"Were we supposed to call some fantasy attorney general of moviedom?" Judd told Time. "There wasn't a place for us to report these experiences."

Assaulted? Harassed? #metoo

The revelations about Weinstein have since engulfed dozens of powerful men from politics, entertainment and journalism such as Kevin Spacey, George H.W. Bush, Charlie Rose and President Donald Trump.

Weinstein's exposure also prompted the viral social media campaign #MeToo - which encouraged women to share their experiences of harassment and assault.

While the movement to expose inappropriate behavior has provided relief and vindication to many, as Time points out, systemic sexism is less high-profile industries is even more difficult to combat.

"When movie stars don't know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who's being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she'll lose the job she needs to support her children? For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won't take no for an answer?" wrote the magazine's editors.

Controversial choices

Time chooses its Person of the Year each December, considering whatever person, group or idea has "for better or for worse... done the most to influence the events of the year."

This has included several controversial choices such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini.

US President Donald Trump has brought increased attention to Time's Person of the Year since he complained in 2015 that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was chosen over him. Time went on to select him for the title in 2016 shortly after his election.

This year, Trump prompted a great deal of parody responses when he wrote on Twitter: "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named 'Man (Person) of the Year,' like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"

In one of the more memorable responses, Tennis superstar Andy Murray tweeted that the "BBC just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named sports personality of the year but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.