Why speaking out on sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility

In the wake of the recent publicity surrounding Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer ousted from the peak of power by multiple news stories of his predatory sexual abuse of women and the cover-up by many in his employment, a new hashtag has emerged.

According to Slate, #metoo has “been tweeted more than half a million times; more than 600,000 people were talking about it on Facebook.”

The hashtag was almost every other post on my news feed all day Monday, Oct .16, all friends and acquaintances proclaiming that they too have been sexually abused or harassed. While the breadth of the issue is evident from this exposure, I would argue that it missed the mark.

Others have said the same. A Daily Kos social media specialist, Wagatwe Wanjuki, has a now widely circulated post explaining that she would not #metoo.

“I know, deep down, it won’t do anything. Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to ‘get it’ will never get it,'” Wanjuki said.

A reply to her post rhetorically asked, ‘I wonder how many men reading the #metoo really thought they didn’t know someone who has been sexually abused.’

The Guardian ran an article listing more than 20 male actors and directors who had worked with Weinstein but refused to comment on the issue.

A recent NPR story highlighted the “cast of supporting actors” that allowed these abuses to happen. Among them were the many people over the years who heard the stories and laughed them off, or did nothing only to speak up now that it is so public. So, I would like to tell you the story of why I will not #metoo.

When I was 17, a man in his late 20s who I knew as a drug-dealer friend of my friend’s older brother, came to my house to sell me marijuana. I smoked a joint with him, and immediately realized that it was more than mere pot.

He admitted to me that he had laced it with PCP. I felt ill and lightheaded and went to my room to lay down. He followed me and proceeded to kiss, fondle and eventually rape me.

I was in and out of consciousness while it happened. Days later I was confronted by my friend who was upset with me because this person was no longer allowed at their house. It turned out, my rapist had bragged about having sex with me and was overheard by my friend’s father, who yelling, made him leave and told him to never come back.

My friend couldn’t believe I would do such a ‘gross thing’ as have sex with that ‘old guy’ and then get him in trouble so that my friend couldn’t buy drugs from him anymore.

I couldn’t even speak to defend myself, the confrontation refreshed memories of his thick, grunting body pressing down on me and a smell of smoke and patchouli that, to this day, I cannot stand.

I felt horrible. I felt it was my fault, that I brought it on myself for doing drugs, for letting a guy into my house while I was alone. I believed, as do so many men and women in our society, that women need to protect themselves by making ‘smart choices.’ And we believe that it’s on us, the victims, to speak up to stop it, to spread the word about these abuses.

After the confrontation with my friend, I never talked about that trauma again. If something good has come from #metoo, it would be how many women are feeling empowered to speak out now. The worst thing for any evil is the light.

But the price for our solidarity must be recognized. Every post with the one line; #metoo is another shallow cut on the surface of the sexual abuse women have suffered for centuries. It is another reminder of all the stories that haunt them.

When I see a #metoo, it brings me to my knees. Every time. Wondering what happened to this woman, girl, sister, mother. Knowing it is not as simple as the tidy words, typed, slowly ascending, up the news feed to reveal another and another. And each one reminds me of this time or another that I have felt the same fear, shame, weakness, helpless, dirty and used way that all these women have.

For those of us who have been abused, #metoo is a painful moment relived and reopened with each new post. It is a reminder. And if there is solidarity being built in the reveal, it must start reaching those whose empathy we need most.

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Weinstein's scandal is largely responsible for the #metoo hashtag. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

In the wake of the #metoo posts, new conversations are starting to take place. The publicity surrounding those who were bystanders to the abuses of Hollywood crystalized what needs to happen. Men are starting to speak up, offer more than sympathy. Men are starting to do more than denounce the acts of ‘a few bad men’.

They acknowledge that all men are complicit in creating a culture where women are discounted in so many ways.

Men are starting to make pacts to hold each other accountable and call it out when they see another man demeaning a woman. Men are vowing to stop saying things like, “I would never do that, I’m a nice guy”. They are realizing even men who think they are nice, hurt women.

I wish every person who suffered from sexual abuse has someone like my friend’s dad who will stand up and defend you when you cannot find any more strength for yourself. Because let’s be honest, this will not stop until men call each other out on it.

Women need men to stand up and say, ‘enough.’

If there is to be a hashtag revolution, let it be lead by men; men pledging to stop making excuses, start saying enough, and ‘no!’ to their cohorts who objectify, dismiss and overpower women.

No one can undo prior traumas, but everyone can help prevent new ones every day.

1 Comment

  1. Tessa, this is such a fantastic article. Thank you for sharing your experiences – I’m so sorry that happened to you.
    The #metoo social media movement was harrowing. However, many of my male friends made promises to hold each other accountable and to do more to stop the underlying acceptance of these actions and that is something to be celebrated. Things are changing slowly!

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