Since this past weekend, women and men have been sharing their accounts of sexual violence with the hashtag #MeToo. While many assumed the movement started with actor Alyssa Milano's tweet about Hollywood producer/mogul and alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, some are pointing out that a black woman named Tarana Burke used the same terminology for a project also mean to address sexual assault.
Overall the trend is a developing story, one that has already led to some serious repercussions, like in Evanston where a former high school teacher is now facing claims about his alleged predatory behavior. Authorities say they're looking into it.
The U.S. president faces several claims of sexual misconduct, and is currently being subpoenaed by lawyers for one of the alleged victims. And he was elected after a recording of his lewd conversation with a T.V. personality about the way he treated women went public during the campaign season.
Many females must face or at least consider sexual harassment on a regular basis - when it comes to walking at night alone, or going to a public space alone, or even when it comes to going to work or school. The issue is pervasive, yet often victims face social stigma and other factors that silence them. With the #MeToo movement, some are finding relief in speaking out. And that's an important first step when it comes to healing, says Polly Poskin, who is the executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Listen to what she has to say about it, as well as what you can do to help curb the problem:
The following are excerpts of the conversation above and what Poskin had to say:
On overall reaction to the #MeToo trend on social media:
I think it's very positive ... it does inform us as the public about its pervasiveness ... For the individuals who come forward, it can be a great sense of relief just to have said out loud what happened to them ... Maybe the (perpetrators) of this behavior will recognize that they can be easily disclosed.
On when to report an incident:
When an individual feels sexually violated -- sexually threatened, they should tell anybody as soon as it happens because it leaves you with the sense harm - of "What if that escalated?" So the reaction to it can be pretty traumatic ... Can you report cat-calling to law enforcement? I think if you see a pattern ... What we're learning is sometimes that isn't the only behavior the person is engaging in ... The person perpetrating that behavior is counting on you not seeking help and not getting the support and empowerment ...
On how to help a survivor of sexual assault:
The first thing that we do is to believe them and acknowledge how courageous it was to come forward. When people come to us, primarily women ... We tell them "We're really sorry this happened to you, we believe you." We ask them, "What would you need to feel safer, how can other people who love you be supportive?" Having the conversation, having the dialogue really empowers everybody.
On why the focus on survivors is usually female-centric:
Historically what we know and our statistics show, and maybe it won't be the case once more men come forward, is that it's primarily women who are sexually harassed/abused/assaulted and its usually by men. And children, if they are sexually harassed or abused it's primarily by adults. And so there is a power dynamic there. What we have to say is that if we can eliminate that power dynamic, if we could create more equality ... then I think the harassment, the abuse, the assault would go away ... At the same time we don't want to discourage men from saying it happened to them ... When men want sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape to stop, it will stop.
On how to address sexual harassment in a meaningful way:
Join the board of directors of your rape crisis center ... you could do prevention education - prevention education that includes the male voice can be very effective. And interrupt terrible jokes by friends or colleagues in your presence. Sit down. Have a one-on-one conversation, if that doesn't work call them out publicly. Men need to become bystanders, you know the "It's On Us" campaign that was created under the Obama administration really encouraged people to recognize the significance of supportive voices. You don't have to do a lot to interrupt it.
On what Poskin hopes the impact of #MeToo might be:
I hope that the women who have come forward feel like a great relief has descended on their lives. When you hold something inside it has very debilitating effects, once you release that, you feel like a burden is lifted. I hope more people continue to talk about any harassment or abuse or assault that occurred. I hope they seek out the help at rape crisis centers, or the help of their school counselor - anywhere they feel is a safe place to be ... Once your truth is out and other people acknowledge your truth ... that's what's empowering ... We can't just see this an acute incident, that's not the case. It has such long-term impact on the individual and extenuating impact on the people in his or her life.
You can read an editorial Poskin wrote in response to some of Trump's derogatory comments on women, which went public a year ago, here.