Sexual violence: The role of #MeToo in empowering victims
The #MeToo movement became a viral hashtag in October 2017 on social media in hopes of demonstrating the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in modern society. It was originally stated by Tarana Burke in 2007 and aims to provide support to sexual violence survivors who are, “marginalised, poor, underrepresented and without a network or community to protect them” (Guardian, 2017).
This movement has empowered women to show victims they are not alone and have no reason to be ashamed. Victims include people from all walks of life; young or old. This is unique as it includes men in the conversation who’ve conventionally been ignored which is a big step towards change.
This movement focuses on abuses of powerful men in the entertainment industry and became viral after stories of Harvey Weinstein surfaced, exposing how he manipulated women in Hollywood. In a poll, 52% of 1,553 women reported facing some form of sexual violence in the UK (Guardian, 2016). A number even higher amongst those working in the manufacturing and hospitality industries (Guardian, 2016).
Another recent example of abuses of power surfacing is Larry Nasser, who was an Olympic gymnastics team doctor and has been sentenced to 175 years after almost 160 victims came forward (BBC, 2018). Another is Kevin Spacey, who assaulted various people including actors and workers on the House of Cards show (BBC, 2017). In the UK, Jimmy Savile is the most notable individual who abused countless but didn’t face any consequences whilst being alive.
All these incidents are isolated where these individuals chose to abuse their position and got away with it at the time, regardless of what century it was. The change we’re witnessing is that people are being called out for their actions AND punished whilst being alive which is unprecedented.
How this relates to power/feminism:
As a mental health advocate, I’ve had several conversations with victims who’ve found it very difficult to share their experiences as it's considered taboo. When celebrities such as Kesha, Viola Davis, Halsey and more shared their experiences of being sexually assaulted, it made it slightly easier for others to come forward and share their stories. It’s more compelling to see celebs coming forward and using their power and influence to raise awareness and stand with victims.
As a woman who’s been sexually assaulted countlessly and struggled to deal with it, I empathised. I felt guilt for something I didn’t do: victims fall into the trap of self-blaming. Those who decide to come forward are often ignored and face consequences rather than the perpetrator by being called a liar, belittled or in some cases, fired. It’s understandable why people don’t come forward about such incidents as it can be life threatening.
There's a big issue with victim blaming as those who come forward are often questioned on what they were wearing or how much they had been drinking. It’s one-sided to force women to do everything to prevent such things from happening when it isn’t that simple. Many incidents are preventable when there’s full consent from all individuals involved.
The #MeToo movement is very crucial in raising awareness on sexual violence as it is a conversation which oftentimes is shrugged under the carpet. There are also several stereotypes which are attached to the topic that also need to be broken.
Brockes, E., (2018), Me Too founder Tarana Burke: 'You have to use your privilege to serve other people', The Guardian, 15 January, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/15/me-too-founder-tarana-burke-women-sexual-assault, [accessed: 24 February 2018]
Burke, T., Milano, A., (2017), We created the #MeToo movement. Now it's time for #HerToo, The Guardian, 21 December, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/dec/21/we-created-the-metoo-movement-now-its-time-for-hertoo, [accessed: 24 February 2018]
Kevin Spacey, timeline: How the story unfolded, BBC, 11 December 2017, available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-41884878, [accessed: 24 February 2018]
Larry Nassar: Disgraced US olympics doctor jailed for 175 years, BBC, 25 January 2018, available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42811304, [accessed: 24 February 2018]
Ross, A., (2016), Half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work, study finds, The Guardian, 10 August, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/10/half-of-women-uk-have-been-sexually-harassed-at-work-tuc-study-everyday-sexism, [accessed: 24 February 2018]