#MeToo: The sexual assault awareness campaign

Following the flood of Harvey Weinstein stories and allegations, women took to social media in an effort to show how big the problem of sexual harassment and assault is. The campaign is simple: “me, too” says “I have also been a victim of this.”

Beneath the statement many included the message “if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

The campaign took off after being shared on Twitter by actress Alyssa Milano.

The campaign was not started by Milano, however. The movement was born a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke to help reach and aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities.

“I think the one responsibility we have as survivors — once we get to a place where we can — is to create an entry point to healing for other survivors,” Burke told CNN. “For years I couldn’t figure out what that would be for me and then ‘Me too’ became that thing.”

Burke addressing a 2014 March to End Rape Culture. Photo via Burke’s    Facebook

Burke addressing a 2014 March to End Rape Culture. Photo via Burke’s Facebook

Sexual assault is widespread. We’ve all heard the statistic “one in six women is a victim of a completed or attempted rape.” What’s shared less is that most of those are completed rapes (14.8 percent of American women have been raped; 2.8 percent have been victims of an attempted rape). According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 54 percent of sexual assault victims are aged 18–34.

Though most victims of sexual violence are women, it’s important to remember than men, transgender people, and gender-nonconforming people are also victims of sexual violence. Three percent of American men are victims of a completed or attempted rape, and one in 10 rape victims is male.

Transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming (TGQN) people are at a high risk for sexual assault — 21 percent of TGQN college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18 and four percent of non-TGQN females and males, respectively.

Sexual violence can and does impact every demographic — but it impacts young people and college students most.

Crystel Sylvester, a junior in the GW School of Business, saw the hashtag trending on Twitter, and said she made her own “me too” post because of her long history with sexual harassment.

“I lived in India in for the first half of high school, where street harassment is especially commonplace. I was harassed and felt up multiple times before I even understood what was happening to me, and I was even followed off of a train once,” she said. “Here in D.C., I’ve been catcalled more times than I can count… I’m now studying in Paris, and although I live in an extremely safe neighborhood, it’s still happening. I wanted to add my voice and my experience.”

She added that she was also inspired by something that happened recently in Pune, Maharashtra, where she lived in while in India.

“A popular cafe/bar called High Spirits was recently called out on social media for assault, and dozens of other women have come forward since with similar complaints against the cafe,” Sylvester said. “It’s become extremely controversial with some defending the cafe and trying to discredit the women who came forward. This happened right before #MeToo started trending, and it inspired me to share.”

While talking about experience with sexual violence can be difficult, senior Fini Bichara said participating was not hard for her because she didn’t share details.

“I, unlike many others, did not share my story, but just simply posted ‘me, too,’” she said, “in order to raise awareness for other people and acknowledge myself that sexual harassment and assault is something very common.

People don’t share their experiences with sexual violence for a variety of reasons, both to friends and family or as part of a social media campaign. For one of Bichara’s friends, the reason is that there are some people she isn’t ready to tell.

“I actually had a friend send me a private message over Facebook saying that she too has a story to share, but is too afraid to share it on Facebook because her family might see it,” Bichara said. “She then wrote a message that said ‘I had no idea it was so common.’ I was glad that this campaign helped her see that she is not alone and it is not something you should hide from or be embarrassed about.”

The question becomes: will this campaign change anything? Some argue that in the era of social media, we easily move from outrage to outrage, letting venting replace meaningful action. Bichara, however, said messages like the ones she received are why she believes this campaign will make a difference. On the other hand, Sylvester said she has concerns that nothing will change.

“The problem isn’t that women aren’t telling their stories,” Sylvester said. “The problem stems more from men or even other women not taking us seriously or shutting their ears. The problem is everywhere — from dress codes in schools that hyper-sexualize girls from a young age to botched Title IX cases in universities.”

The hope is that showing people the magnitude of the problem, even if it doesn’t lead to sweeping policy changes, will change how we view and believe women. It feels like every woman knows a woman who has been harassed, but men seem confident they don’t know any harassers. The fact is, you probably do, and it’s on all of us to fight against it.

“It’s not victims who need to step up and share; it’s not our job, not our burden,” Sylvester said. “It’s people in power who need to make changes. I chose to participate anyway because a viral campaign like this can definitely open a few people’s eyes at the very least.”

Originally published at gw.therival.news by Emily Milakovic on 10.20.17.
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