Survivors of sexual assault and harassment saying “me too” is not new. They have been saying it for a long time, but something has now changed. More people are listening.
You can think back to 2002 and the hundreds of young boys saying “me too” as the silence around priests abusing children finally broke. Hundreds of boys said “me too” in 2011, as Jerry Sandusky was brought to justice.
In 2014 we heard “me too” from dozens of women that said they were drugged and assaulted by Bill Cosby. While #metoo was trending, we learned of the hundreds of young gymnasts that were molested by Dr. Larry Nassar.
Even these high profile cases demonstrate how, time and again, we so easily ignore “me too” and enable sex offenders to continue to create literally hundreds of new victims.
It is difficult for survivors to speak out, given the way we enable offenders and shame victims. Not everyone feels comfortable saying “me too,” because they fear how people will think about them and respond to them.
We have a culture that shames victims and makes them responsible for being assaulted. When survivors choose to publicly disclose, they are often treated differently afterward. Victims often feel like they have to defend themselves more in the workplace and that colleagues look at them differently.
If they are having a bad day, people assume that they are having some kind of negative response to their assault. The whispers through the professional partnerships question if the survivor is mentally capable of doing their job.
Disclosure also has an effect in personal circles. It often changes the conversation and creates awkward moments where people don’t know how to respond. For instance, a friend is complaining about a bad day, when they feel compelled to justify their complaining with comments like “Well, it’s not as bad as what you went through.”
This comment attempts to be supportive, but typically makes the survivor feel awkward. Sexual assault is difficult to talk about. In our culture we don’t want to openly discuss healthy sexual relationships. Discussing sexual violation is even more difficult.
Despite the popularity of #metoo,” survivors still know there is a risk involved in speaking of their “me too.” Even as a Director of an advocacy agency for survivors of sexual assault, I know that disclosing my “me too” is a risk.
But it is a risk I take so that other survivors know they are not alone. For those who have been able to say “me too,” thank you for your courage.
For those who have not, or cannot, it is okay. We will continue to raise our voices as advocates to change our culture so that one day, you won’t be afraid to say “me too” until the day when no one will need to say “me too.”
(Jane Graham Jennings is the Executive Director of Women’s Community in Wausau, Wisconsin. This article was reprinted with permission from The Profile, spring newsletter, 2018).