“Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are a legal contract between two or more parties that signifies a confidential relationship exists between the parties involved. The confidential relationship often refers to information that is to be shared between the parties but should not be made available to the general public.”
There are certainly situations where non-disclosure agreements are beneficial, even necessary to protect victims. But for too long the use of NDAs when it comes to sexual abuse and assault in the workplace has been to silence the victim and protect guilty parties.
When the #MeToo movement took over the spotlight last year, one of the thoughts that stayed with me was, “What is the difference this time?” For as long as I can remember, “the casting couch” wasn’t a secret, women have been complaining and explaining while enduring sexual harassment in the workplace for ages. What was the catalyst for this seemingly sudden change, that society finally not only listened, but believed these stories of abuse?
The answer was right there in the movement name “Me Too”. With the duality of visibility and anonymity of social media, victims were no longer afraid to share their experiences. The sheer volume of people coming forward not only encouraged more women to come forward (even men where the taboo of being labeled as or outed as gay has had its own silencing effect). The numbers gave validity to the complaints. There is a sense of security and source of power in numbers. When most of these cases fall into the “he said, she said” category, the only way to give that validity to any one complaint is to show a pattern of behavior. NDAs have, in effect, hampered the ability of victims to show that pattern of behavior.
Non-disclosure agreements have created a void of information crucial to the safety of the next person that has to interact with abusers. This left the door wide open for abusers to become serial abusers and the rumor mill as the only defense left to the vulnerable; a situation that could be viewed as simply vindictive, thus questionable and less likely to be heeded.
They have also been used to give the illusion that accusers are liars only looking to make a quick buck and leaves victims unable to defend themselves without facing legal repercussions, which further skews public opinion. When other victims see how viciously those who go public with their accusations are treated they are less likely to come forward, especially if they work in an industry where public opinion can permanently damage their career. So they suffer in silence feeling alone and that no one cares to hear the truth.
“I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I
had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past.” – Lupita Nyong’o via Variety
We live in a time where victim blaming is commonplace in the power structure of our society and it’s institutions. The onus of poor or disastrous outcomes is placed on people with the least amount of power and greatest need of the other parties involved. We need to do away with NDAs that only protect abusers and the business interests of the corporations that they work for, this will place the responsibility on those corporations to ensure the basic safety of their employees by forcing them to do their best to keep abusers off their payrolls.