For decades, allegations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual misconduct have sounded throughout Hollywood. Recently, the police have been investigating three specific allegations against the Hollywood producer. However, the Weinstein allegations show the larger issues within sexual assault.
On average, there are 321,500 victims (ages 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States (Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics). Most do not report these assaults for a multitude of reasons. While it is more commonly women who are sexually assaulted, it is important to note that men are less likely to report when they are sexually assaulted. For many, they fear the public announcement of a humiliating, and terrifying experience. Also, the assaulter is rarely punished so as not to damage his or her reputation. Sexual assault is often brushed aside as dramatic or too controversial to be talked about openly, thus leading victims to feel shameful of an event over which they had no control.
On Sunday, October 15, Alyssa Milano asked women who have been victims of sexual assault to tweet #MeToo to show the extent of the problem. The result was monumental. Since Milano tweeted, 4.7 million people have discussed sexual assault on social media. Men and women have shared their stories, articles, and support as they relate to each other on a matter that should not be pushed aside any longer.
However, many people struggle with writing the words ‘Me too.’ For many, it seems too dramatic, or is sharing too much of themselves with others. In a society that silences women, and especially women who speak out against sexual predators, admitting that sexual assault has happened can be a scary prospect. However, the origins of the #MeToo movement were intended exactly for those who believed their experience were not important or large enough to discuss.
The openness about sexual assault started in 1996, at a youth camp, by camp director Tarana Burke. After a camp activity, a camper tentatively approached Tarana, and opened up about the abuse she had suffered at her mother’s boyfriend’s hands. Tarana, shocked and terrified by what the little girl was telling her, “listened until I literally could not take it anymore … which turned out to be less than five minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could ‘help her better’” (CNN). Tarana watched as the camper walked away, hurt to be cut off, and feeling as if no one would listen to her fears.
This little girl’s courage, and the common reaction to be fearful and emotional when hearing the horrors of sexual abuse, prompted Tarana creating the Me Too campaign as a way to tell every young women of color that they are heard, they are understood, and people care. Tarana now runs the Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, a program focused on empowering young women of color.
Tarana notes that this “viral moment” must go further than just a social media post, however. She notes that many victims who come forward instantly feel shame and guilt afterwards. The movement must therefore be more than just a status or picture; it must be a network of support for those affected by sexual assault.
The two little words, me too, carry a world of emotion and meaning that cannot be the end of the discussion of sexual assault. They need to be the beginning of a new culture of openness and understanding towards victims of sexual assault, intolerance for and action against sexual assaulters, and the pathway for progressive conversation about prevalent issues within our society.