NEW YORK — Actress Ashley Judd, one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of misconduct, read aloud a personal letter she'd written to sexual assault survivors Saturday, telling them that healing is not only possible, "it's our birthright."
Judd's remarks, in which she referenced her own journey to recovery after experiencing sexual abuse in her youth, provided an emotional finale to a daylong event hosted by the Tribeca Film Festival and the Time's Up movement fighting sexual harassment and promoting equality in the workplace. Along with Judd, panelists and presenters included #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, and actresses Lupita Nyong'o, Mira Sorvino, Julianne Moore, Sienna Miller and Mariska Hargitay, alongside lawyers, labor organizers and activists.
"We can heal," Judd began. "That has been my experience." She spoke of a time when she was sexually assaulted in high school, a crime she said she doesn't remember but was reported to police. "I was wearing a green and gold cheerleader's uniform, my mother tells me. It was in a local store and I have no memory of that crime."
"Healing is our birthright," Judd said. "It was not our birthright to be sexually harassed or assaulted or raped ... (but) it is our birthright to know in our bones that it wasn't our fault. We humans hurt each other and sometimes we hurt ourselves, but we can make decisions and take actions that free us."
Judd later sat down for a conversation with Burke, who spoke of her own journey, saying: "The thing that saved my life was when I figured out how to lean into joy, and not trauma." In an earlier panel, Burke was asked what the next steps are for women.
"What has to happen is we channel anger into the work," Burke said. She urged everyone in the audience to realize they have a role to play. "Everyone has a lane, everyone has something to contribute," she said, adding that survivors need to be regarded not as victims, but as a powerful force. "I think of us as a power base," she said. "As a constituency."
The focus of the Time's Up event was both national and global, including a speech by United Nations official Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, on gender inequality around the world.
And despite its location at a glamorous film festival populated by movie stars, there was a strong emphasis on women who are neither famous nor wealthy — on hotel workers, restaurant workers, farm workers and domestic workers. One of the most passionate presentations came from Saru Jayaraman, of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, who drew a standing ovation as she called for a level wage for female restaurant workers dependent on tips — often at the cost of sexual harassment — to feed their families.
The only man to speak, former NFL player and now gender activist Wade Davis, addressed the lack of education given to boys and young men about how to treat women in their lives, the "insidious ways young boys learn to be a man," and the seductiveness of power — and how it all contributes to rape culture.
In a panel about the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal assistance to victims of assault, harassment or abuse, lawyers said more than 700 attorneys had already volunteered, and more than 2,500 people have requested legal help since January. The fund has raised $22 million and is looking to raise $100 million to become self-sustaining. Lawyer Robbie Caplan assured the crowd that the more women keep standing up and telling their stories, "We will not only change society, we will change the law. I'm sure of it."
One of the leaders of Time's Up, lawyer Nina Shaw, spoke of the need for inclusivity in discussions about women. "For me, success would mean when people say 'women,' they mean all women," Shaw said. "One of the things we say a lot in Time's Up is 'women of all kinds' because you often hear the phrase 'women and people of color.' Well, we ARE women."
Judd ended her letter to assault survivors by suggesting that "our rage become our strength, our energy and our motivation."
"What was depression becomes expression," she said, "and self-pity and help are transformed into dignity, integrity and courage. There will still be the hard days ... but we know our preciousness and our fierceness. Healing ... is our birthright."