Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time comes when silence is betrayal.” The time to break the silence has come again for the survivors of sexual abuse with the #MeToo movement.
What began as a simple hash tag trending on Twitter and Facebook in October 2017 has grown with millions of men and women proclaiming their independence from sexual violence.
I am a #MeToo.
It seemed simple enough to say those words when I first posted it on my Facebook page. I have been a victim and a survivor of sexual harassment and violence from my childhood on. Many of my experiences were tucked away out of shame and guilt, my voice silenced, my personal interactions and relationships haunted. After all, I should have been able to do something, put a stop to it somehow. Especially as an adult woman, I could have fought back, or so I was constantly told.
#MeToo gave me a chance to say something without saying everything, as it has for many survivors. People have found it an open door to share their experiences, to give and receive comfort, to finally get the justice they deserve. It has opened up conversations previously considered taboo.
With this new awareness, Oregon campuses also began looking at what more they could do to help their student population. College and university students and administrators gathered to learn about how to prevent and respond to sexual abuse in January at a summit in Portland, Oregon put on by the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA).
During the keynote address, Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray spoke about OSU’s recently developed program for sexual abuse and harassment prevention and treatment. The program began in response to a 1998 rape of a woman by four men, three of whom were OSU football players at the time. The rape was called a “bad choice” by the OSU coach, and nothing was done beyond a one game suspension for two of the players. It wasn’t until 2014 that the woman, Brenda Tracy, broke her silence on the matter.
Tracy’s story spearheaded change. OSU not only updated their campus response to sexual misconduct, but also now many other campuses are developing similar programs to enable victims to come forward and get needed help and support.
Similar to Tracy’s story, the #MeToo movement began with a few voices, grew, and in a few short months impacted change.
However, in the midst of this progression, is a dark underbelly. While most survivors’ stories are real and need to be heard, some have used the movement and its conversations as a way to accuse whomever without proof. And in our desire to stand behind the survivors, we take to social media, at times unwittingly joining in what has been described as a witch hunt. At the summit, delegates were told they should always believe the story they are told as truth. “I believe you, and it’s OK” was repeated during one workshop.
In this era of social anonymity, however, is it wise to always believe and validate, even if it means ignoring doubts we may have? Is everything really black and white, guilty or innocent, true or false? Have we forgotten the gray, or simply that humans are fallible and capable of great wrong, in either direction? How do we identify this? Should we perhaps focus on the cultural changes that need to be made, teaching our children to respect each other? Are there ways we can help keep ourselves safe, no matter our gender identity?
Where do we go from here?
In this special edition of The Mainstream, we examine the issues surrounding the #MeToo movement, encompassing ways to teach, learn, protect and support ourselves, survivors and future generations. Now is the time for us to move forward, to start having open conversations about sex and sexual abuse. Now is the time to clarify how we define harassment and abuse as a society and in legislation. Now is the time to be heard.