Assaults of a sexual nature have always been a taboo topic in society. For a variety of reasons, sexual crime often goes unreported and unpunished, and victims are left to deal with physical, social and psychological injuries on their own. For the cases that make it to the limelight, whether in a court of law or to the general public, there is a tendency for the abused party to be stigmatized, resulting in humiliation and further psychological struggle.
With that in mind it’s easy to see why most sexual assaults go unreported and unpunished. In the recent past, progress has been made in the right direction and more victims have mastered the courage to talk about their ordeals. This new found confidence coupled with heightened social media awareness has seen the struggle spread to global heights.
One of the most successful sexual abuse campaigns is the ‘Me Too’ campaign. It all started with the much publicized sexual harassment allegation against Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning Hollywood film producer.
In the wake of the allegations, American actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet using the hashtag calling on abused women to speak up about their experiences. She woke up the following day to find over 30,000 people had heeded her call and just like that, the #MeToo movement has spread around the world.
But the #MeToo Movement Was Created over 10 Years Ago
Although the campaign found its way into digital platforms on October 15, 2017 after the original tweet, the movement had already been in existence for about a decade. Tarana Burke, a black woman, had created the ‘Me Too’ campaign as part of her community outreach program. This was in 2007 long before hashtags were a thing.
Through Just Be Inc, a youth organization founded by Tarana, the phrase is used to reach out to young women of color who were facing sexual abuse. The rallying call is meant to unify victims and encourage others to speak up. Tarana is herself a survivor who was sexually abused in the mid-2000s.
According to her, the movement was targeted at underprivileged communities, “where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going”. She said this during an interview with Ebony Magazine. She went on to add that Me Too “was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”
What started as a movement aimed at women of color grew to unify victims of all races, nationalities and religions. In the same spirit, Alyssa Milano acknowledged Tarana’s Me Too efforts by crediting her in a later tweet. The two have actually become friends and continue to encourage victims through different forums.
Spread of the #Me Too Movement
As the hashtag was used by more and more people each day, it grew into a movement. This aggressive campaign was picked by the media due to the high profile aggressors that were at the center of most allegations. By the end of 2017 the number of victims who came forward was huge enough to attract international condemnation of the vice.
So much was the outrage that Time Magazine named “the silence breakers” as the 2017 Person of the Year. The magazine took the movement to greater heights by running the profiles of not only the founders but other people who wished to remain anonymous. This brought into light the heartbreaking cases of victims from different backgrounds, from politicians to housewives.
The magazine ran photographs and stories of famous female actors such as Ashley Judd, Alyssa Milano and Selma Blair. Other women interviewed by the magazine include; Wendy Walsh, a former Fox News contribuer; Sara Gelser, Oregon State Senator; Sandra Pezqueda, a former dishwasher and Rose McGowan, an activist.
To illustrate that the abuse was not confined to a one gender, men with similar stories were also featured. Terry Crews, a former American football player and currently an actor, and Blaise Godbe, a filmmaker and political commentator, were among the men whose experiences were highlighted.
The issue was also bold in naming some high profile persons against whom allegations had been levied. This included Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer (former TV show host), James Toback (independent film director), David Muller (radio Dj), Bill O’Reilly (former CBS News, ABC News and Fox News reporter), President Trump, Bill Cosby (retired actor), Mark Halperin (political analyst) and Kevin Spacey (actor), among others.
The magazine also caught the indifference shown by most communities towards sexual allegations. One such opinion was voiced by a 22 year old former office assistant who had this to say about remaining in the shadows; “I stayed anonymous because I live in a very small community. And they just think usually that we’re lying and complainers”.
Adaptations of the #Me Too Movement
As of 9th November 2017, barely a month after the first tweet, #MeToo had been tweeted over 2.3 million times. These were posts from twitter users in 85 different countries and since then the movement continues to grow. Adaptations have sprung up all over the world, all with the same message; speaking up against different forms of sexual abuse.
Different people and organizations have came up with catch phrases that hit closer to home depending on language, cultural insights and other local factors. Such movements include:
#BalanceTonPorc is the French answer to the worldwide ‘me too’ debate. The phrase translates to “denounce your pig” or “snitch out your pig”. The hashtag was first used by Sandra Muller, a French journalist, herself a victim of abuse and one of the Time 2017 Person of the Year. The tweet encouraged victims to publically name their alleged abusers.
In a country where 93% of sexual offences go unpunished, the campaign went viral soon after it started. This was however followed by condemnation by the media and some high profile women who felt that men had the “right to pester women”.
The movement later regained traction after younger women became vocal on workplace sexual abuses. Sandrine Rousseau, a French politician is among high profile people who support the movement. Tom Connan, a musician also added his voice to the debate by admitting he was also a victim of abuse.
In Canada’s French-speaking regions the hashtag used is #MoiAussi which literally translates to “Me Too’. In the days following the movement’s creation, the government released alarming statistics; 60% of surveyed people alleged that they had been sexually abused at their places of work with 41% saying that reporting to authorities had borne no fruit.
The movement was an instant success in the country with many victims coming forward to report cases (553% above normal) soon after the hashtag started trending. The movement has since seen allegations against notable people come to light, such include; Sylvain Archambault, a media personality and Gilbert Sicotte a famous TV actor.
A new hashtag #EtMaintenant, which is French for #AndNow or #NowWhat?, has also gained popularity. The new movement seeks to pressurize authorities to take charge of the situation, now that vast numbers of workplace sexual abuses had been brought forward. This second part to the #MoiAussi movement also seeks to see attitude change regarding abuse cases in different sectors of the society.
#YoTambien is the Spanish-speaking world’s equivalent to the movement. The hashtag came to be after several Spanish Cinema denounced sexual harassment in the industry. Notable names in the report include Carla Hidalgo, Ana Gracía, Maru Valdivieso, and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón.
The movement was greatly fueled by the 2016 La Manada case, in which five men were accused of sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman. The crime had garnered a lot of media coverage with the public being dissatisfied with the sentencing of the accused.
Many felt that finding the accused guilty of ‘sexual abuse’ instead of ‘sexual aggression’, which carries a harsher sentence, was leniency and miscarriage of justice. By the time the trial ended in late 2017, the #YoTambien movement was already in full swing leading to nationwide street demonstrations.
#Ana_kaman and #Anakam are the Arabic counterparts of the movement. The hashtags have become a powerful weapon against oppression directed to women in a region with questionable human rights. After the 2011 Arab Uprising, many countries in the region found themselves faced with demonstrations calling for repeal of laws, most of which discriminated against women.
Long after the uprising had simmered down, the Me Too movement breathed new life to the struggle. Although the fight moved from the streets to digital platforms, downtrodden women found a platform to voice their ordeals to the authorities and the whole world.
The hashtag was created by Giulia Blasi, an Italian journalist. It translates to “That Time That” and is meant to combat a deeply entrenched culture of victim-blaming in the country. The movement has however not been successful with the initial enthusiasm dying out soon after. This is despite the fact that Italian Fabrizio Lombardo was alleged to have aided in the sexually harrasment of Asia Argento by Harvey Weinstein.
There are however few but strong voices in support of the movement. One such supporter is Laura Boldrini, president of the parliament’s lower house, who acknowledges that women feared speaking out.
While addressing legislators, she said “In Italy, it certainly hasn’t had the same effect. In our country, there are no harassers”. This was a swipe at the country’s highly patriarchal society. She later added, “They (abused women) know that in this country, there is a strong prejudice against them”.
This is the Chinese activists’ push for the movement in the highly internet-censored country. Authorities entrench the notion that women should stay at home and concentrate on their families. Such sentiments have given rise to a society that does not care about women suffering.
This could explain the high number of women who have been sexually harassed during the course of their careers. Such a report by City University of Hong Kong which had placed the number of allegations at 80% was pulled down due to fear of public outrage. There have also been allegations that phrases such as ‘anti-sexual harassment’ are filtered out or blocked from online searches and social media platforms.
Despite these setbacks the #MeToo movement has seen victims bravely airing their cases. An inspiring case is that of Luo Qianqian, a social activist who alleges that she was sexually abused by her Phd supervisor. “There’s no longer any need to be afraid … we need to stand up bravely and say, No!”, this she said while urging other survivors to come forward and use the #WoYeShi hashtag to reach out to others.
This was the Philippines’ adaptation of the movement. The phrase translates to ‘I am a Woman’. #MeToo did not see much response from the sexual abuse victims whom have lived in a society which places blame on the accuser rather than the accused.
Emotions were however reignited in May 2018, when President Rodrigo Duterte declared that the country’s Chief Justice could not be a woman; this became a breaking point for most women who had already been living under a highly sexist society.
That’s not all…
The global reach of the movement has not been restricted to tweaked variations of the umbrella hashtag. Some regions are still using the original #MeToo to speak out against the vice. Here are two examples from opposite sides of the globe:
The country’s netizens used the #MeToo hashtag to decry blatant sexual abuse at Kenyatta National Hospital in late 2017. The institution is the leading public health facility which was at the time facing allegations of male personnel raping women who gave birth under their care.
Sexual allegation against politicians in Britain arose in the wake of the campaign. Most of these were brought forward by junior staff under the direct employ of the parliament. Allegations against politicians were also brought forward by journalists including Kate Maltby and Jane Merrick, who claim to have been harassed by former minister Sir Damian Green and Sir Michael Fallon respectively.
Has the Movement Been Successful?
The #MeToo campaign and its various adaptations have gone over and beyond what founders could have envisioned. Most victims who had kept quiet and suffered in isolation have found a platform to speak out. Societies which had buried their heads in the sand have also been forced to confront the alleged abusers in an environment where the public is keeping tabs.
The campaign has also seen so-called ‘untouchable’ individuals being brought to justice; most however continue to plead innocence, but this has not stopped them from losing jobs and political offices.