Last week, hashtag #MeToo began trending on various social media sites as men and women alike began to share stories of their experiences with sexual assault, especially from superiors in the workplace. Many celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Molly Ringwald, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie participated in the trend, helping propel to popularity a movement designed to create awareness and empathy among survivors.
Because survivors certainly owe no one an account of their experiences, the courage required to write and publish these posts is indubitable. For many, talking about an incident so violent in nature can constitute a re-exposure of the self, often resulting in a total re-experiencing of the event.
In an environment so self-admittedly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and justice, we at the University of Dallas have a particular tendency to idealize “the good,” often at the expense of those for whom justice is presumably being sought after. We push survivors to speak up, to file a report, to “do what’s right.” In so doing, we often treat the act of reporting a crime like a trip to the DMV rather than the emotional equivalent of open-heart surgery that it is.
When we think of issues like sexual violence, we tend to think mostly of strangers lurking in the bushes, not students on our campus. It’s easy to tell victims they ought to stop hiding and start reporting their abusers when we view sexual assault through such a narrow lens.
But very few assaults are actually committed by strangers in bushes. According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well. Even more disturbingly, children who have experienced some form of sexual assault in their adolescent years were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college.
Abuse happens at all universities — even ours. Statistically speaking, with the vast number of large families that comprise our student body, we likely have a far greater number of abuse victims on our campus than we care to admit.
So if you see a #MeToo post, don’t ask, “Why did you stay in that abusive relationship? Why didn’t you just leave?” Instead, ask, “What can I do for you? How can you best be helped right now?”
No one should have to have to publically display a painful past in order to convince anyone that sexual violence exists. That’s too big a burden for anyone to bear, and Facebook statuses definitely aren’t enough to sustain its enormity. What a tweet does do, however, is begin a conversation — a conversation whose significance is unrelated to whether an accuser was directly named.