By Deidre Loftus
#MeToo. A hashtag created in the wake of over 40 women coming forward accusing Harvey Weinstein, film producer and former studio executive, of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. The hashtag originated when actor Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If all woman who have been sexual harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Since then, #MeToo has been sweeping the nation, inspiring thousands upon thousands of women and girls to come forward. I’ve seen it on my feed and I’m sure you’ve seen it on yours.
#MeToo is a small and powerful movement showing how common sexual violence is. Yet there is still a lot of work to do. Victim blame is pervasive in American culture, particularly on college campuses. Over and over I hear people question the validity of a survivor’s story. People make statements like, “Why did they wait until now to come forward?” or “What were they expecting?” or “They’re just trying to get back at them.” I oftentimes ask students how often false allegations of sexual violence occur. People often think false allegations account for up to 90 percent of situations. The fact of the matter is that false allegations account for only 4.5 percent of allegations (Los Angeles study, 2014).
Sexual violence is messy. There are countless scenarios that many people call “gray areas.” Sometimes, the survivor invites their perpetrator inside, or begins kissing them, or initiates oral sex. Sometimes a person is both a survivor and an abuser. Sometimes a person is raped by their partner, family member, or best friend. And sometimes the survivor continues dating their perpetrator. I resist the notion that any of these scenarios are “gray”. Violence is violence. Black and white. Just because you don’t understand why it happened or how it happened, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
If you haven’t already done so, search #MeToo in any of your social media platforms. Read people’s stories. I challenge you to believe everything you see. Even if it’s hard. Even if you know the person who did it. Even if you don’t understand. Sexual violence isn’t gray. It’s black and white. And it’s time for us to start listening.
Deirdre Loftus is a Sexual Assault Prevention Educator for Planned Parenthood serving Paul Smith’s. She provides education, advocacy, and awareness and is available to discuss consent and sexual violence with anyone who is interested or has questions.