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Ashley Judd urges women and men to find solutions to harassment


NEW YORK — Ashley Judd, the actress and humanitarian, urged attendees of Business Insurance’s Women to Watch awards ceremony in New York to work in service of others, including vulnerable populations in developing countries, and to find new ways to discuss and find solutions to sexual harassment and gender violence.

Ms. Judd for years has worked with organizations such as Washington-based Population Services International, which launched in 1970 with a focus on partnering with local governments and health organizations to improve reproductive health and, later, to prevent the spread of HIV, but has since extended its efforts to stop the spread of malaria and tuberculosis.

She was recently named one of Time magazine’s 2017 Persons of the Year for speaking up about the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of former movie studio head Harvey Weinstein.

As the keynote speaker at Business Insurance’s 2017 Women to Watch awards ceremony Friday, Ms. Judd told attendees of her own personal history experiencing sexual abuse for the first time at the age of 7 and the reaction she experienced when she told other adults in her life about the abuse.

“We’re only as sick as our secrets, and my family grew up with a lot of secrets,” she said. “I’m a teller, as Harvey well knows. The first thing I did was go straight to some adults and explained what happened, and those adults minimized my reality and denied that it had happened.

“In that moment, for the first time, I lost my voice,” she continued. “I was just absolutely shut down. My bodily integrity had been violated. My autonomy and dignity had been violated. I had been sexually exploited. There was an abuse of power, and then the adults around me reinforced that what had happened was absolutely nothing. But fortunately, I have this internal resilience, and it’s a resilience I was seeing in children all over the world.”

Ms. Judd told of her first humanitarian trip to Cambodia, where she was taken directly to areas where child brothels were located.

“I’ve been blessed to have the childhood I had, because it taught me a sensitivity and a love for those who are vulnerable the way I was vulnerable,” she said. “My circumstances looked a little different and my details are different, but we all want this issue to stop. We all want to be heard.”

She talked about “the reckoning” in the United States on sexual harassment.

“It is going to be messy for a little while,” she said. “The pendulum is swinging. Of course, we may ourselves have heard some men executives say, ‘I’m not going to hire this woman because it’s just too awkward at this point and we don’t know what we can and cannot say.’ That’s not a solution. It’s not good for your bottom line. You don’t erase half your talent.”

“We have to learn appropriate ways to talk about sex and sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace,” Ms. Judd said. “Hire someone to come into your organization to do training. Have the ability to be open-minded and teachable.”