The first data RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, has on their statistics page is this: “Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.”
What seems like a terrifying statistic has become relatable in the last few days as familiar faces shared their stories of assault using the hashtag #MeToo.
Since actress Alyssa Milano called on women to speak about their experiences of sexual harassment or assault with #MeToo, over 12 million stories have been shared. Milano started the hashtag after dozens of women—including actresses Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne, and Gwyneth Paltrow—exposed their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein.
#MeToo was originally a grassroots movement created by Tarana Burke 10 years ago. And before the recent #MeToo social media storm took off, there were other conversation starters, such as #YesAllWomen in 2014, #WhatYouWereWearing, #YouOkSis, and #SurvivorPrivilege, all started by women of color.
Milano, who has credited Burke, resurfaced #MeToo to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
And it’s done that:
Many brave women, who have come forward and shared their stories, have helped to destigmatize the issue of sexual assault and open up difficult—but necessary—conversations. By helping so many share their stories and voices, #MeToo has shown them that they are not alone.
Why others are asking more of the #MeToo movement
But while the hashtag has been embraced by many, others are speaking up to say that more is needed. One Facebook post, which has gone viral, summarizes why some ask more of the #MeToo movement:
Wagatwe Wanjuki is known for her work against sexual assault on national college campuses. She lays out what some other victims and survivors feel about the movement, that “deep down, it won’t do anything. Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to ‘get it’ will never get it.”
Other voices on Twitter and Facebook have echoed this sentiment:
The concern these individuals have with #MeToo is that the movement may bring about awareness, but not necessarily the change needed to protect future and current victims. They also point out that for every woman who has spoken up, there are likely many others who chose not to:
In an effort to make the discussion of assault more diverse and inclusive, new hashtags have sprung up: #HimThough, #HeDidIt, and #IDidThat seek to turn the attention back to the predators and persecutors by holding them accountable for their actions, instead of keeping them on the sidelines of the conversation.
#HimThough comes from Liz Plank, who asks: “Why is the burden always on women? I'm done. I'm done pretending sexual assault is a woman's issue. Your shame is not ours.”
#IDidThat, meanwhile, is being championed by Devang Pathak, a male comedian from Mumbai. In his tweet, Pathak reflects on the signals that TV shows and movies often give to men, writing: “Shows and movies tell men to ‘go after’ vulnerable women, either drunk or those who have a had a breakup. It’s subtle but not at all innocuous.” He ended his reflection with: “I am sorry and I will do better.”
How we can help survivors, both online and off
But as hashtags grow and the conversations become diluted, some wonder, “Where can I go from here?” after reading a #MeToo post.
For some men, it has been creating a pledge to do better. Using the hashtag #HowWillIChange, many men and women are listing the ways through which men can become better allies for women, as well as others who have experienced assault.
For others—those who feel moved by #MeToo and act on their awareness—moving away from online conversations may be key. In a study originally reported by Wired about moral outrage in the digital age, Yale assistant professor Molly Crockett wrote that: “expressing outrage online may result in less meaningful involvement in social causes, for example through volunteering or donations. People are less likely to spend money on punishing unfairness when they are given the opportunity to express their outrage via written messages instead.”
For those who want to help, paying attention to the needs of victims is a good place to start. RAINN provides a variety of materials for survivors and their loved ones on how to navigate the journey after. You can also volunteer at a RAINN-Partner Crisis Center.
So what happens after #MeToo stops trending?
Research shows that victims of sexual assault often do not seek care, and if they do, the care they receive can be disorganized, unaffordable, or scattered at best. Regardless of their level of care, recovery from the physical effects of sexual assault—from severe injuries, to sexually transmitted diseases, to unwanted pregnancies—can take up to six months. And that’s not to mention the enduring effects on a victim’s mental health. People who have experienced sexual assault are at higher risk of mental disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and emotional numbness.
Each individual’s healing process is different. Their needs and options vary, depending on their support system. Some turn to their family, some openly ask for donations to help with medical treatments and therapy. But for each process, having a strong support system can make all the difference.
Burke’s original intention when she started #MeToo years ago wasn’t only to build awareness, but also to foster a support system and to amplify the voices of sexual assault victims. “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” she told Ebony. “The power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation.”
As noted by RAINN, the rates of sexual assault have fallen by half over the last 20 years. Here’s hoping that, when #MeToo and other hashtags stop trending, their moment in the sun will have helped make those rates fall even faster.
If you think you have been a victim of date rape or sexual assault, get medical attention right away. Don’t bathe or change your clothing before you go, so the hospital can collect evidence. Tell the police everything you can remember.
You can also call RAINN’s hotline at 800-656-4673 to speak to a trained counselor. There is more information about the service on RAINN’s website. You can also talk to a counselor online through instant message.