The power of ‘Me Too’
Millions of people started raising a hand online on Sunday to say they’ve been assaulted, abused, harassed, and it’s still going.
Statistically, 91% are women.
I’ve heard another statistic, and I’m not sure I ever fully believed it until today when so many people noted their age at the time of assault.
It’s 1 in 4. Do you know it?
Beyond the “Me Too’s” today there are people who cannot or will not step forward to be counted. Sometimes, as many have pointed out, they live with the abuser or will have to see them at work tomorrow.
Here are some other stats:
- 90% of assaults that occur on college campuses are not reported
- Only 12% of child sexual abuse cases are reported to authorities
Why? Why don’t the majority of survivors report the crime?
In the comments section of any article or post about someone stepping forward years after abuse or assault, you’ll read the same questions over and over and over. Why didn’t you step forward? What took you so long? Why now? These are the “nice” questions. (Really, if you spend 5 minutes perusing the comments sections of these articles you’ll get a good grasp of why. People say absolutely horrible things to and about survivors.)
I think for most women I know who stepped forward later in life there are three major reasons they didn’t do so before: context, confidence, and consequence.
- Context: when your own children reach the age you were when you were abused, you realize exactly how young you were, how innocent, and how absolutely not at fault you were. Up to that point, you probably told yourself — or were told — a lot of lies.
- Confidence: when you reach a point of security or have enough support to step forward with your story you get braver. I know a whole group of women who finally stepped forward in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. It’s a thing.
- Consequence: survivors weigh the personal cost of reporting. Investigations, interviews, new investigators, more interviews, testifying in court, being questioned — graphically, media interviews, public hostility, family hostility, shunning. The idea of devoting years of your life to something you wish you could forget but the wheels of justice are slow requires intensity and courage. Especially if you’re fighting a powerful perpetrator or institution.
Somewhere between 85-90% survivors of sexual assault/abuse knew the attacker*.
It takes serious guts to raise your hand — especially if the perpetrator is well-liked, well-known, and/or well-connected. When a young woman no one’s ever heard of takes on the likes of Mr. Powerful and Charming, his defenders come out in droves, with pitchforks, to verbally assault a woman whose only “offense” is that she finally spoke up. Or she spoke with a tone. Or named people who were complicit. Or made people uncomfortable with her justifiable wrath.
It’s what happens.
Whether it’s Hollywood or a Baptist missionary agency, a massive east coast public university or a private southern California Christian college. Same, same, same.
She kept quiet to protect her career.
Did you read that one? God knows how many people have kept quiet to protect someone else’s. The doctor’s, the pastor’s, the teacher’s, the mission’s, the team’s? God’s? No really. As if God needed anyone to protect Him at her expense.
Why didn’t she speak up often has an easy answer: She did.
And someone told her it wasn’t what she thought it was, she should keep it to herself, she should forgive him, she should get over it, it’s just how it is, it happens to everyone, he’s just like that, boys will be boys, he’s really a good person, he’s done so much for Jesus, he’s so powerful you’ll never win, he didn’t mean anything by it, worse happened to me and I got over it, be thankful it wasn’t worse, what did you do, what were you wearing, you shouldn’t have gone, you’ll ruin his life.
Silence and shame.
Some survivors throw off that shame and just tell it like it is. And some have said their piece and that’s it. And some will go to the grave never having told a soul. But I’ll bet you every single one wants to be in charge of their own voice.
#MeToo is showing the world how common sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are — every generation. Incredible, isn’t it, that people can be bound together by a simple phrase. I hope we treat each other with a little more kindness and compassion because of it.
But I also hope we see the strength in numbers. The power of one really, crazy-strong person who has found her voice and braved the onslaught of nasty words and criticism and threats and loss to make a way for a few more courageous ones to stand beside her and pursue justice in the face of so much resistance and hate. (You know who you are, dear ones.)
And now Harvey Weinstein is finished. And he won’t be the last.
*85% of college women, 90% of children
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USF33-020207-M1-9058-C]