Why the #MeToo hashtag must be translated into action

by Susan Strongman / 18 October, 2017

Women in Israel take part in a Slutwalk march in June. The campaign gained global momentum after a Canadian policeman suggested if women don't want to get raped, they shouldn't dress as sluts. Photo / Getty Images

"They cannot just let it be a hashtag." 

On Sunday, “When my tormentor died, I didn't feel a thing,” was the headline of broadcaster Alison Mau’s Star Times column. 

Mau’s father had called to tell her her former boss was dead. Her response was “good job.”

The man, Mau wrote, had tormented her and her colleagues. “He was a monster to the young women in his newsroom.” There were lurid questions about sex lives and shouted obscenities. A few months into the job, Mau left.

But it is the beginning of her column that may strike a chord with many, because it is here that Mau points out that her experience is not exceptional. 

“Many other women in my industry, and others, have experienced hauntingly similar things. Women at the highest level of Australian broadcasting lived this story alongside me.”

On Sunday afternoon, LA time, actor Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet asking people who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply with the words “me too”.


View image on Twitter

If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.

Her intention, via a friend's suggestion, was to raise awareness of “the magnitude of the problem”.

The tweet has been replied to more than 61,000 times. As of this morning, it’s been retweeted 22,000 times and favourited 45,000 times. 

Other celebrities have joined in, and the hashtag is trending on Instagram and Facebook. 

The outpouring of support and solidarity comes after the outing, on October 5, of allegations of rape and sexual assault against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. 

Many people - including those who have used the #MeToo hashtag, and those who have not - have experienced sexual harassment and assault. 

Izzy O’Neill, the national coordinator of sexual violence prevention organisation Thursdays in Black, says the #MeToo hashtag is being used as a healing mechanism - a therapeutic avenue for people to begin to open up and share their personal experiences with sexual violence. 

“As a survivor myself, to have gone through my feeds and read “me too” over and over again, it makes me feel like I’m not alone.” 

But O’Neill says that at the same time as raising awareness of how commonplace sexual harassment and violence is, the hashtag has sparked warranted conversations about the fact that it shouldn’t be needed. 

“The labour of stopping sexual violence routinely falls on women, trans people and gender minorities, because they are all significantly more vulnerable.” 

This places an onus on survivors to take action. But, as writer Alexis Benveniste pointed out in a tweet, “survivors don’t owe you their story.” 

Reminder that if a woman didn't post , it doesn't mean she wasn't sexually assaulted or harassed. Survivors don't owe you their story.

O’Neil says that while the hashtag serves a purpose as a healing mechanism, and raises awareness, it does also raise the question of how this can be translated into action. 

“We’ve got people talking about these experiences, people have been talking about this for centuries. Now we need to start thinking about accountability.

“Now is an important time for us to think, as employers or colleagues, about how we foster healthy working relationships with people that are based on respect. How do we actively practice consent in our own lives - whether it’s in employment relationships or romantic relationships.” 

Although her tweet sparked action this week, Milano was not the first to use the #MeToo hashtag. 

Sexual assault survivor, organiser and youth worker Tarana Burke has used the hashtag since the mid-2000s, particularly with women of colour. 

Burke told the LA Times: "Somebody asked me, does this [campaign] amplify your work? And it does in a certain way, but also when this hashtag dies down, and people are thinking about it, I'll still be doing the work."

She told the Times that to keep the ball rolling, celebrities could share the work they’ve done to recover. 

"They cannot just let it be a hashtag."

SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN NEW ZEALAND

In a 2015 report to the Ministry of Justice, sexual violence was described as “a blight on New Zealand society.” 

Yet many victims or survivors - with some estimates as high as 80 per cent - choose not to report offences. 

According to the report, this is largely because they perceive the criminal justice system to be “alienating, traumatising, and unresponsive to their legitimate concerns.” 

According to the most recent and accurate data available from the Ministry of Justice’s New Zealand Crime and Safety survey, only seven percent of sexual offences were reported to police in 2008, down from nine percent in 2005.

HELP Auckland, an organisation that supports survivors of sexual violence, estimates that 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and three of those get to court. Only one of those is likely to get a conviction.

The impact of sexual harassment and assault on victims and survivors can vary. Physical injuries are rare, but can be severe. Stress can impact the immune system and result in back pain, tension headaches and skin disorders. Psychological and emotional effects can include shock, hysteria, disbelief, disgust, fear, guilt, confusion and feelings of powerlessness. Longer term effects can include sadness, suicidal thoughts, not wanting to go out, insomnia, non-enjoyment of relationships and intrusive thoughts. Victims or survivors may self-harm or abuse alcohol or drugs. 


WHERE TO GET HELP

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

If you’ve experienced sexual violence, call Rape Crisis on 0800 88 33 00. 
If you’re in Auckland, call HELP’s 24 hour helpline on 09 623 1700. 
Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

This article was originally published by The Wireless.

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