Millions of women across the country and around the world are sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse online using the hashtag #MeToo. It started when actress Alyssa Milano asked her Twitter followers to reply #MeToo and share their stories. In Alyssa Milano's tweet she said,“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."
Less than 24 hours after Milano’s post, there were 12 million #MeToo Facebook posts and over 650,000 tweets on Twitter and the numbers kept rising. “Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage,” said author Amy Jo Martin. Alyssa Milano's initial tweet may have instigated the online campaign, but the significance of the "MeToo" hashtag goes back almost a decade when activist Tarana Burke started the movement before hashtags even existed. To Burke, MeToo is about starting a conversation between survivors of sexual abuse and creating an exchange of empathy. She stated, “Sexual violence is a spectrum. Sexual violence knows no race, or class, or gender but the response to sexual violence does.”
RAINN (Rape Abuse, & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, states that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, with younger people age 18-34 being at the highest risk of sexual violence. One out of every six American women has been a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Although women are more at risk, men are still vulnerable to sexual assault. One out of every thirty-three males has experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Whether it is verbal or physical, sexual harassment is harassment. Whether it be in the workplace, or other professional or social situations, it involves the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
#MeToo, in 2017, was created in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Fifty actresses and film industry figures have come forward accusing former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, and each day more women continue to come forward about their experiences with him. Even big-name actresses like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have spoken out on the abuse they endured during the early years of their careers.
“I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth, as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did,” Jolie said. Paltrow also shared her experience with Weinstein. Before the filming of Emma (1996) started, Weinstein allegedly begged Paltrow to come to a meeting with him in his own hotel suite. Paltrow said the meeting ended with him placing his hand on her and suggesting they head to the bathroom for massages. She stated, "I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified.”
Another man using his position of power to abuse and demean women is Roy Price, an Amazon Studio Chief who was suspended from Amazon after several assault allegations. Isa Hackett, a producer for Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, was inspired by the #MeToo movement to share her story. Amazon has since released a statement that Price is “on leave of absence effective immediately.” When asked whether the revelation about the Harvey Weinstein had inspired Hackett to go public, she responded, “Yes, it has. I think women inspire each other. I feel inspired by the other women who have been far braver than I am, who have come forward. I hope we all continue to inspire each other and ultimately create change.” Though these horror stories come from corporate Hollywood, it is not as if this type of misconduct cannot happen anywhere else, especially at schools.
Last month, Santa Monica College Police Department arrested student Corey Osbourne for sexual harassment. The SMC police released a statement stating they have received numerous complaints regarding Corey who has been very aggressive toward women on campus. He has been seen asking for their personal information in order to form a relationship and has physically grabbed, touched, and followed them throughout the Santa Monica area. The suspect has been taken into custody, however, police are seeking the public’s help in identifying other possible victims. If you have had contact with this individual and or experienced similar behavior SMC police ask that you contact them immediately.
During my search for interview candidates, I chose one male student at random, who did not appear to be busy. As I conducted the interview, he kept trying to change the subject, repeatedly asking me out and making sexual advances. As I denied him several times and attempted to end the interview, it seemed as though he would not take no for an answer. In that moment I felt frozen. As much as I wanted to get up and run, my body would not let me. I was paralyzed with fear. I picked up my phone, pretended like I was receiving a call and ran.
After speaking with the campus police and replaying the situation over and over again in my head, I realized there was nothing I could or would have done differently. Working on this story, I found that so many victims blame themselves. “Oh, I shouldn’t have been talking to him anyway. Oh, I should have planned this interview out better,” but in fact, I was not the problem, it was him. Why can someone not show respect and understand that NO means NO? When discussing my experience with family and friends the first response everyone jumped to is “You should take a self-defense class! Do you carry pepper spray?” Yes, these are viable options, but the problem is not whether or not I can defend myself, the problem is the fact that people think its okay to take advantage of others for their own personal gain.
“It needs to be an open conversation that is really targeting the culture that allows this to happen because at the end of the day that is the central issue. It’s not whether or not people can defend themselves. There need to be critics of the instances and the dynamic that allows this to occur,” stated Intersectional Feminist Alliance board member Melissa Tapia-Cortez. Sexual advances can come from anyone at anytime. It is important to be able to defend yourself, but also to know that the victims are not the root of the problem. Sexual abuse is part of our reality but is not often talked about. It is imperative that more people speak up about their experiences and less people push it under the rug.
Things are not going to change overnight, next month, or even in a year, but if the conversation continues in support of others, the more room there is for change. As Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education once said, "When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful."