Special Report: Two powerful Savannah women faced harassment, fought back, encouraging others

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new. But in 2017, a record number of women from all across the country stepped forward to say “Me Too.”

That movement spread like wildfire in October 2017. Women everywhere boldly told the world they weren’t going to take it anymore.

Two powerful women in the Savannah community also took a stand against harassment, and they’re also helping other women fight the battle.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap holds the highest office in law enforcement.  She grew up in Savannah’s Windsor Forest neighborhood.  After graduating from college, Heap went off to law school to become a prosecutor.  She later practiced for several years in Northern Georgia.

“When I first started in the early ’90’s it was male-dominated, some of the judges I was in front of was very much old school,” says Meg Heap, Chatham County District Attorney.  They would call you honey, and sweetie, and you know, I’d just kinda nod, I’m like well, ok you’re ruling my way.”

Heap says even her colleagues back then were bold and aggressive.

“I was in a group of men and I was the only female and one of them slapped me on the behind.  she says.  So, I just called them out.  I said, you know, that’s not cool.  This is sexual harassment.  It never happened again,” says Heap.

Heap now represents women, some who aren’t bold enough to take a stand against harassment.

“It’s traumatic for a lot of people.  I always think about that.  Sometimes they can’t.  But, now many empower us and become survivors. They were victims, but not anymore.”

Over in Port Wentworth, Debbie Johnson made history four years ago on the city council.  She was one of two African American women to ever get elected.

Johnson grew up in Savannah’s Cloverdale community, has a master’s degree and is currently pursuing a doctorate.

But, Johnson says her accomplishments didn’t seem to matter to a council dominated by men.

“It was a struggle cause I felt like they were never going to respect me, never going to listen to what I had to say, so I had to make sure that I pushed on,” says Debbie Johnson, Port Wentworth City Councilwoman.

Johnson says she never could have imagined the level of harassment that lay ahead.  It happened one night back in 2016, during an executive session of the council.  One of her colleagues snapped a photo underneath her skirt.

“Another councilman told me it was on social media, saying that I had no underwear on,” says Johnson.  When I learned that it had happened, I was appalled, I felt like I was violated and cyber-raped,” she says.

A lawsuit is now pending in this case.  And, Johnson pushed Georgia lawmakers to change the law to help protect women.

“The law says now if you take any pictures without a person’s knowledge, video, cell phone, etc, you will be prosecuted,” says Johnson.

Heap and Johnson took bold stands against sexual harassment.  They’re hoping that no other woman will be forced to say, “Me too.”

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