A Piece by David Tran
Me Too. Two words that broke a long silence showcasing compassion, empathy, and solidarity. Two words that also communicated to survivors: you are not alone. Two words that stated that society has a detrimental problem. While many learned of the #MeToo movement when Alyssa Milano’s tweet swept across the country turning up countless stories of abuse in Hollywood and other industries, the movement has a lesser known origin that started ten years ago to draw attention to assault against black and brown women. Whether the Me Too movement (and the related Time’s Up movement) has been co-opted or has evolved is still up for debate. UNAVSA supports by standing with all victims and survivors in this growing fight against sexual assault.
Twenty years ago, Ms. Burke was left speechless after sitting across from a 13-year-old girl and listening to her story of her sexual abuse. That young girl left such an impression on Ms. Burke that ten years later, she founded a nonprofit organization called Just Be Inc. to help victims of sexual harassment and assault. With a focus on the black and brown communities, she started the Me Too movement to bring awareness to this plight.
This past October, the New York Times published an article featuring actor Ashley Judd and other women in the industry, accusing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of decades of overlooked sexual abuse. This story opened the floodgates of accusations against other media executives, but the revival of the Me Too hashtag would not begin until days later when Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet” – igniting a storm across social media. On Facebook, there were over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions to #MeToo over 24 hours. By the end of November, 1.7 million tweets were made with the hashtag. This phenomena not only brought forth victims from Hollywood, but also Olympic athletes like McKayla Maroney, teenagers abused by politicians, and even men who are less inclined to express their stories about sexual assault. One of the biggest impacts of #MeToo has been bringing the conversation of sexual assault to the masses and not solely revolving around celebrities.
Although the Me Too movement has shed light on so many victimizers whose crimes were once swept under the rug, one can argue that the original purpose of the movement has been left behind. While we want to maintain the light shed on offenders, we do not want to lose focus on the changes needed to stop sexual assault and its tabooed and silenced acceptance. There are new stories each day about abuse of power in various levels of all industries, but it has not been well publicized that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault compared to other races or that other women of color also experience higher rates of sexual assault compared to white women. Research states 1 out of 10 rape victims are male, and 1 in 6 men have experienced unwanted sexual abuse. The actual numbers of male victims may even be higher as they are widely underreported. Social stigmas and the pressures of gender conformity shame men into not sharing their experiences or outing their assailants. These types of systemic stories are not surfacing to mainstream public consciousness as quickly as the individual stories of workplace harassment or the takedown of individual serial abusers.
These alarming data points are mere numbers when looking at behaviors of society. Numbers don’t have meaning unless a individual chooses to see the adverse effects of societal development. The Me Too movement is centralized around two major components: stories of the brave survivors, and outing perpetrators that have evoked pain and suffering through their heinous actions. However there is a missing and often overlooked aspect: everyone else. Many often feel helpless or unsure of what to do when seeing and hearing of these stories. Actions can go beyond just sharing words of comfort by individuals demonstrating solidarity in everyday moments. Taking action to speak up against abusive ideas and behaviors go a long way in preventing harassment and violence. Silence was and still is the main culprit to this ongoing issue.
In the end, perhaps this conversation should not be a dichotomy about whether #MeToo has been co-opted and diluted or whether it has evolved to further the spotlight on the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, but rather the conversation can encompass and address all aspects. It is possible to talk about sexual assault without erasing the original purpose by addressing the unique challenges that black and brown survivors face. It is also possible to expand this conversation to give all victims the power to put a stop to this abusive behavior and prevent future occurrences. Regardless of how the conversation proceeds, what #MeToo has laid the groundwork for may be most important; it has given survivors a community to enact profound change. Equality is still a challenge and needed for a better world.