In the past weeks, social media helped amplify a disturbing truth that many women have experienced at some point in their lives: sexual violence.
Actress Alyssa Milano, known for her sisterly role in the television series “Charmed,” shared a 51-word tweet, influencing women to acknowledge their encounter with sexual assault by using the hashtag #metoo. The tweet ignited a mass movement across the Twittersphere. Thousands responded. According to Mashable, social analytics firm Crimson Hexagon confirms this hashtag was tweeted 109,451 times in the first day alone.
The story spread like wildfire. It was reported in most news outlets.
But for many women, this is not new. Neither is the #metoo campaign. New York activist Tarana Burke started the #metoo initiative 10 years ago to support and empower young girls – specifically young women of color from low-income communities — who were victims of sexual assault.
The connection between women and sexual assault has a long history. For many, it dates back to childhood. In tweets, victims mentioned being sexually abused before they were even 10. My own experience dates back to age 4 — and encounters increased as I grew older.
More than a definition
The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape.
But sexual assault is much more nuanced.
- It’s stolen kisses on the playground.
- The snapping of bra straps in math class.
- Wandering into the girl’s bathroom.
- Peeping under their skirts.
- Salacious gestures.
- Sexual coercion.
Sexual assault is anything that makes women feel like sexual prey.
Why women stay silent
#Metoo reflects, innumerably, the women affected by sexual misconduct, which also outnumbers the amount of reported incidents. The disparity in numbers proves legions of women are not forthcoming when it comes to sexually violent experiences. Here’s why:
- We are gripped by fear of retaliation. Many girls and women are threatened by the offender.
- It is often the case that women’s accounts of sexual assault are discredited and/or discounted.
- Victim blaming is a thing. Whether it is dressing provocatively, being flirtatious, consuming too much alcohol or not saying “no.”
#Metoo is a vehicle that allows us to shed these insecurities — the fear, distrust, shame and doubt — by bringing women together, en masse, to support one another.
But we cannot stop there.
We have to educate and inform our children about sexual assault and rape culture so they do not become part of the #metoo narrative.
We must be cognizant of behaviors and situations that place us at risk.
And collectively, we must make clear that we will no longer be victimized.