Social Media Movement Highlights Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment and Assault

If you’ve opened up Facebook or Twitter recently, you’ve probably seen the “me too” hashtag countless of times. The hashtag is often posted with an explanatory caption: “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.”

The hashtag has actually been in circulation for a decade, created by Tarana Burke, an activist from Harlem. The initiative was a movement “to aid underprivileged women of color affected by sexual abuse.” In an interview with CNN, Burke explained that “on one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.’”

Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the hashtag and urged others to post the status beginning October 15th in wake of the investigations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct. It went viral in mere hours across various social media platforms. Milano was notified that the movement had already been created and quickly gave credit to Burke, however Burke was elated about the awareness created by the resurgence of the hashtag. “It made my heart swell to see women using this idea,” she tweeted, “one that we call ‘empowerment through empathy’ #metoo.”

As reported by CBS news, the hashtag was featured in over 12 million posts, comments, reactions, and shares in a 24-hour period, a number that continues to grow. Based off sheer numbers, the movement is helping to create awareness for the issues of sexual harassment and abuse. In the same article, CBS reported the statistic that Americans are sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and that one in 6 women have faced rape.

While the sentiment and strength of the movement are admirable, there has been a great deal of conversation surrounding where things could be improved. One of the biggest concerns is that by having victims post, it puts the burden and responsibility on them instead of their assailants. As one CC student said, “It definitely takes bravery to post.”

In addition, for every woman that has posted, there are innumerable more who have not. Isabella McShea, co chair of SOSS, the Student Organization for Sexual Safety, commended the movement for its healing purposes, as part of giving a sense of the magnitude of the problem while also giving survivors a sense of the support system. McShea emphasized the fact that the healing process is different for each individual, and “just because someone didn’t post something doesn’t mean their experience is invalid. They get to choose how to heal.”

Many advocates have noted the importance of accepting non-women identifying individuals as part of the movement as sexual abuse is also a problem for non-binary people, transgender people, and men. Excluding people from a movement “goes against my belief in intersectional feminism,” said McShea.

The purpose of this movement is to spread awareness of the issue of sexual harassment and assault, and that “even if just one more person feels supported by the movement, then it’s doing its job.” McShea underscores, critiques are important but not to the point where they delegitimize a good cause. Reporting by the New York Times notes the movement is gaining international recognition as well. In conjunction with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, women all over the globe are gaining courage to speak out and share their stories.

While social media gets its fair share of criticism, Marcia Dobson, a classics professor who incorporates feminist and gender studies into her teaching, points to the fact that “social media can be incredibly helpful in bringing communities together globally.” Social media has provided a platform “allowing women to speak out and feel comfortable speaking out.” 

Dobson agreed with McShea about how even though movements can quickly become watered down, “people shouldn’t cut people out, it’s important to see how it [the movement] flows.” Dobson continued to say that the result shouldn’t be minimizing the issue, rather open the doors for communication- “What is it that will open the doors for discussion and allow us to get there? Men have to come to recognize what they’re doing, we have to raise their consciousness…and were looking to achieve justice.” Many times, offenders don’t realize that what they’re doing is harassment. They may see catcalling as a compliment or an individuals’ repeated dodging of advances as playing hard to get.

Others are wondering how much the hashtag encompasses. McShea explained it as easier to understand as a “continuum of violence” including everything from being catcalled as you cross the street to the act of rape, and recognizing all events on the continuum as valid experiences of sexual harassment. McShea notes, above all, it’s important to support survivors and let them know they are not alone and that they are believed. Each healing case is up to the individual and sometimes these words aren’t enough. In the end, it comes down to actions.

One quote from a CC senior seems to sum up public opinion: “The ‘Me Too’ posts seem to be spreading awareness for a number of reasons. The posts shed light on the many different ways in which sexual assault and sexual harassment can take form. The quantity of brave individuals willing to share their stories are also demonstrating the frequency in which many people are experiencing sexual assault and harassment.”

This anonymous CC senior went on to add, “It is essential that we educate people more effectively on how to act in ways that are consensual. I think that we are doing a better job pointing out examples of sexual assault, especially when it may seem confusing…communication is a skill. Giving and accepting rejection needs to be taught, and our education system does not emphasize effective communication.”

Finally, Burke, the original creator of the movement gave her input on the hashtag. “The work that I’m doing, in this movement, is really about survivors talking to survivors. “Me too” is about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame. So we need to keep talking about it. I appreciate the hashtag elevating the conversation, but it’s not a hashtag, it’s not a moment. This is a movement… we need to look at the numbers, people and survivors, and think strategically. I think like an organizer, and this is an epidemic.”

Some of the students in the article spoke on the condition of remaining anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the #MeToo campaign and sharing testimony of experienced sexual harassment and assault. Those individuals are referenced simply as CC Students.



Featured below are #MeToo testimonials posted to Facebook by past and present CC students. Students shared testimonials of sexual harassment and assault in concert with messages of support for survivors as part of the global #MeToo social media movement. The movement has received a groundswell of support in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. 



Emily Kressley

Emily Kressley

Emily, class of 2020, is an environmental policy major originally from Essex, Conn. While she is drawn to Colorado for its mountains and skiing, she has found strong communities within the CC Cutthroat rugby team, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and, of course, The Catalyst staff.

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