Last week, actress Alyssa Milano took to twitter to encourage others to share their stories of sexual assault with the hashtag #MeToo, hoping that the magnitude of stories would help society recognize that this subject is not exclusive or taboo. Within 24 hours of that tweet, the hashtag had been shared close to a half million times on Twitter. Celebrities also used their social media as a platform to share their stories of sexual assault they had experienced while making a name for themselves in Hollywood. Detailing the harassment they faced in order to land a role and the pressure they felt to keep their assault a secret, as to not jeopardize their careers.
Over the past week, I have seen countless friends, family and peers share their own stories of assault. People I considered myself to be very close with, told truths about their lives that they had never told anyone. Stories started circulating on Twitter from friends I had made in class or on campus, people I knew of as laughing, smiling faces, retelling horrible acts done to them by coworkers, SO’s and family members. A girl I had known from my freshman year posted on Facebook about being sexually assaulted while she was drunk at a party I had attended. As a woman, I had always known that sexual assault was rampant in society because I had experienced it too many times to count, and I realized that mostly every other person around me could relate.
If so many other strong, successful women could share their stories of sexual assault, why was I hesitant to share mine? For years, I preached to my friends the importance of reporting sexual assault, ensuring them that it wasn’t just “something that had to happen” for women to make something of themselves in the world. I had the perfect opportunity to use my experience and privilege to highlight to severity of sexual assault, but I felt as if this movement was misdirected. While these stories do bring attention to the sheer number of people that have been sexually assaulted, they are also personal stories that should not have to be exposed in order for change to be brought about, in regards to sexual assault.
Here’s the bottom line: sexual assault survivors don’t owe you their stories. Although everyone who shared their experience with the world is brave, strong and courageous, the #MeToo movement exemplifies that society has failed to recognize injustice and has swept victims under the rug, shaming them into hiding their stories instead of reporting their attackers. Those who have shared their stories, often have had blame placed upon their clothing or intoxication instead of reprimanding the assaulter. We have allowed Hollywood to undermine young actors, taking advantage of the inferior positions in which they are placed under producers, directors and filmmakers, who hold these actor’s careers in their hands.
The #MeToo movement is another example of how sexual assault is not treated in the serious manner it should be. These people survived despicable encounters with people taking advantage of them, and they were blamed and mocked instead of taken seriously while their attackers walked free. Victims do not owe anyone their stories or the trauma caused by their sexual assault, and society shouldn’t have to be prodded by stories of sexual violence in order for change to be discussed.