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Sexual assault awareness, one social media post at a time

Nikki Roberts

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If your Facebook timeline looks anything like mine, then you’ve seen an abundance of posts over the past few days that contain two haunting words: “me too.”

Started by actress Alyssa Milano in response to the accusations of assault aimed at Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, the Me Too movement is a way for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to bring attention to how common, and how overlooked, instances of harassment and assault actually are.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” Milano said.

Before discussing this movement further, it is important to define the terms “consent,” “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault.” Consent is the clear, verbal affirmation given by people about to engage in intercourse or other sexual activities. It can be as simple and bland as one person saying, ‘I want to have sex with you,’ to which the other person can give their permission, respond in a similar manner or simply say ‘yes’. Consent must be given freely and coherently. It cannot be obtained by force or from someone who is inebriated.

(Victoria Williamson, The DePaulia)

The Rape, Assault and Incest National Network (RAINN) states that sexual harassment “includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment.”

Harassment does not have to be limited to a specific person; general statements that target groups of people are also defined as harassment. Additionally, RAINN defines sexual assault as “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.”

In addition to these definitions, there are two important things to keep in mind while discussing the Me Too movement. The first is that sexual assault is not always attempted or completed rape. Assault can occur in several ways, from a romantic partner pressuring you to have sex to an unsolicited touch from a stranger on the street. Secondly, it must also be noted that not all survivors of assault and harassment may make a “me too” post. For some survivors, addressing their experiences can remind them of the trauma that comes with experiencing a sexual assault. According to DoSomething.org, four out of five survivors experience chronic physical or psychological health issues after their assault. 

Since Milano’s call to action, social media has been flooded with statuses seeking to shed some light on the issue of sexual abuse. Some of the posts simply read, “me too.” Others provide an explanation of what “me too” means, and instructions on how to keep the movement going. A small number of posts detailed the sexual abuse the person experienced — a bold move that is extremely effective because it attaches a name and a face to the often nameless victims of sexual assault.

Additionally, while women are typically the victims of sexual assault crimes, the Me Too movement has allowed many men to be vocal about their abuse for the first time.

“I decided to post because I do not think that victims should be ashamed of what happened and to prove how often and widespread sexual assault (is). Personally, I had no idea how wide spread (sexual assault) was and I hope that from the sheer number of people posting it will start a conversation and eventually lead to a reform,” said Elizabeth Dukatt, a DePaul University sophomore.

As with every online activism movement, there will be people will who deny the need for survivors to speak out. I have seen some posts that attempt to discredit the movement by calling those who chose to speak about their experiences “Social justice warrior snowflakes” and “femi-nazis.” I have also seen posts that insist not every person who has posted “me too” could actually have been physically assaulted.

“A lot of people think sexual abuse is something that happens to a small fraction of people, but it’s more common than we all think. I hope that me adding “me too” will make people realize how common this is,” said Anaíra Abonce, a Loyola University sophomore.

According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. That’s 882 sexual assaults in the U.S. each day. Additionally, 321,500 people over the age of 12 are raped each year. RAINN also states that people ages 16-24 are the largest age group of victims of sexual violence. Looking at the statistics a bit closer to home, DePaul’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness reports that 53 percent of students have experienced sexual assault at least once within the confines of a romantic relationship, and that 35-50 percent of these victims are male.

“I have met a lot of sexual assault survivors. I have heard their experiences, and watched these men and women express their trauma through various art forms. The Me Too project is another great way to reach out to other survivors and spread awareness about how common sexual assault in our society has become, said Kurdt S. Tonin, a writer for Pages Per Content.

“One in every four women will be raped in their lifetime, yet only one in every 1,000 cases of rape will actually be prosecuted. For those who can’t get a prosecution out of their rapist, or for those who don’t feel comfortable going through the judicial system to seek out justice, the Me Too project comes in as an important tool to share our stories with each other, and realize we are not alone, we will not be silenced, and the fight against sexual abuse is far from over.”

The goal of the “Me Too” movement is that online awareness will serve as a catalyst to real societal and policy changes. While online activism is a crucial first step in opening the discussion about sexual violence, there is still much that must be done.

“I think online activism is extremely important to not underestimate because everybody’s on their phones and scrolling on their feeds (…) you get to reach a higher body of people this way. “Me Too” will only bring awareness of the problem, which is good; it’s a first step. But that’s it. As long as we don’t reveal our monsters or file charges or lobby to get more protections for sexual abuse survivors, not much will be accomplished,” Abonce said.

Clearly, sexual violence and harassment is not limited to just a few nameless victims. Survivors of assault are male and female; children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. They and are single or in new or long-term intimate relationships. Sexual assault happens often and it happens to our family members, friends, peers and co-workers. Because we live in a society that buys in to rape culture, we are often unaware of the magnitude of the problem. Activism movements such as “Me Too” are a critical first step in working to reduce sexual assault and harassment.

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Sexual assault awareness, one social media post at a time