In the past month, the Internet has blown up with the #MeToo campaign, in which sexual assault and harassment survivors have been called upon to write “#MeToo” on social media sites to express that they have experienced this type of misconduct.
I think the #MeToo campaign has good intentions. It is getting people to have conversations about a prevalent issue that has been taboo for too long. It is providing a strong platform for survivors to share their stories and experience solidarity with one another. I have even participated personally, writing #MeToo in the comments of a couple of Instagram posts.
But it’s not good enough. Let me explain why.
Telling your story of sexual assault is a coming-out process. You do it when you’re ready. And if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to, ever. You don’t owe anyone. Sometimes, it’s not safe to tell. Sometimes you are so traumatized by what happened that you don’t have the words to fully comprehend it yourself.
The judgment sexual assault survivors face from society is incomprehensible. For me, as for many assault survivors, telling people was just as traumatic, if not more so, than the assault itself. People blame you for your assault, force you to relive the trauma over and over again, make insensitive comments, or laugh it off. Some of my darkest moments have been caused by people whom I trusted with this information. People whom I love.
Now, think about putting this information on the Internet, where trolls roam freely and people can say whatever they want without consequences. Think about the rape threats and harassment that might ensue if enough people saw your story. Imagine reliving one of the worst experiences of your life over and over.
You cannot come out until you are ready.
So why is it that we are putting all of the responsibility on survivors to fix this problem? Why are the women who speak out being praised and the women who are afraid to speak up being demeaned and pressured (hmm, doesn’t that sound familiar …)? I can’t tell you the number of times I have been shut down for trying to talk about my assault. It feels as if people are only comfortable with a survivor telling their individual story when it’s on their terms, and not on the terms of the survivor.
Why is it once again falling to the victims to fix a problem they didn’t cause?
Sexual violence and rape culture disproportionately affect women; I have never met a woman who hasn’t experienced it in some fashion. So a conversation about sexual assault should be led by women. But there is a myth that sexual assault is a “female experience.” It’s not, and I feel that the #MeToo campaign has not fully brought that to light. We cannot forget about all of the other groups who are affected.
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. In a study by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 12 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming respondents in grades K-12 reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that 3 percent of American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
These sad statistics probably aren’t even telling the whole story. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes because of the stigma surrounding it. Even the #MeToo campaign can’t fully express the magnitude of the problem.
I did not write this post to undermine the campaign or the people participating in it, because ultimately, I think it is well-intentioned and can do a lot of good. But I want to provide a more comprehensive set of solutions.
Men, I am calling on you; you must not remain silent. When you hear “locker room talk,” shut it down. If you witness sexual assault or harassment, intervene or tell someone. Amplify survivor’s voices, but don’t pressure them. Listen. Don’t tell us how to feel or what to do. To quote Lady Gaga: “Until you walk where I walk, it’s just all talk.”
Keep this conversation going. Expand on it as much as you can. I can guarantee you, there are thousands of predators like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Brock Turner. The President of the United States has been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women.
Sexual assault occurs every day and rape culture is everywhere. It has happened in your community, to those you know. It is happening still. Stop pretending that this will just go away.
Stand with all survivors. Even the ones who choose not to speak out or can’t speak out. I am speaking out because I feel ready to, and so I can be a voice for those who aren’t ready. But ultimately, we don’t owe you our stories. We didn’t ask for this burden. If you’re going to stand with some of us, then stand with all of us.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.