The risk of claiming #metoo

Curator's Note

Time Magazine identified the 2017 person of the year as the "silence breakers."[1] While this could be a victory for movements like #metoo, it becomes vital to take a critical look at how the #metoo movement spotlights suffering. As Department of Justice notes, “2 out of 3 assault cases will not be reported,” and the intent behind #metoo was to offer a social platform to highlight how many woman have been impacted by sexual harassment and/or sexual assault.[2] The hope was that a hashtag could illuminate the insidious nature of rape culture, and, in turn, illustrate how widespread sexual misconduct has become within our society. In a sense, those marked by sexual assault exist as members of an “invisible minority,” as trauma frequently hides within the protective guise of silence. To break this silence, social media users turned their statuses into a visibility project by sharing solidarity. Unfortunately, by sharing “me, too,” the victims of sexual assault and/or harassment are required to “out” themselves.

Because trauma is not necessarily visible, “outing” suggests that an individual has either outed themselves as a survivor or was outed by someone to whom they disclosed their trauma experience. “Outing” becomes further problematic if an individual believes they do not have personal agency in sharing the trauma. Thus, outing results in a “second assault” or a moment where the survivor feels further alienated within their experience. Specifically, outing prompts questions like “What were they wearing?”, “How much were they drinking?”, or any statement that tries to blame the victim for the assault. Second assaults can also occur when an individual is triggered emotionally to relive the experience because of PTSD. Therefore, addressing the use of “outing” to unify survivorship becomes a complex endeavor. The dangers of outing are two-fold: outing oneself does not equal resources of support and public pressure on the “responsibility of being visible” may cause individuals to “out” themselves before they are ready.

The first implication regarding “outing” is that individuals may not have the resources or support that they need in terms of safely sharing their sexual assault testimony. There has been a grassroots hashtag in response to #metoo, #whyididntreport which further explains the issues regarding the lack of resources.[3] This hashtag notes that there is not one right way of disclosing one’s experience (including immediate reporting), while also highlighting why 2 out of 3 assaults are not reported. For instance, their silence may be the only way a survivor can process their assault. Resources may include: friends, family, therapeutic support, or other modalities. Users of #whyididntreport state they lacked many of these mechanisms, which is why they chose silence. #Metoo was a campaign rooted in viability first; thus, some individuals did not have the tools to safely process their experience.

The second implication is that some individuals became too focused on the visibility of the #metoo movement. As people shared their experience, they may not have considered the possible collateral damage attached to their disclosure. It is important for survivors to maintain a sense of control and agency regarding how their story is told; yet, I have worked with several individuals that had not consider what joining the #metoo movement fully encompassed. In particular, the backlash surrounding outing oneself is not a narrative told alongside the narratives within the movement. The hashtag and media coverage show the vastness of sexual misconduct, but the movement has not focused much on the aftermath of marking oneself with the hashtag. Outing oneself should happen because you are ready, not because it is a fad.

At the one-year anniversary of #metoo, we find ourselves at an interesting kairotic moment with the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. During the hearings three women had come forward alleging they were assaulted by Kavanaugh, most notably Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Her testimony served as a symbolic #metoo: a narrative shrouded in solidarity with other women.  As a survivor, I struggled with how Dr. Ford was cross-examined. As she told her story, I thought of my own. I was heartbroken, but not surprised when President Trump claimed we could not believe what she said. As she gave a vivid description of the assault, newspapers and social media tried to destroy her. To say that it is a difficult time to be a survivor within current political times of America is an understatement. What Dr. Ford’s testimony did was remind every survivor that we do not get the luxury of “innocent until proven guilty.” Instead we are faced with trying to prove we did NOT deserve to be assaulted. During an interview with Stephen Colbert, Lady Gaga spoke out in support of Dr. Ford. Lady Gaga has been an advocate against sexual assault, even composing the song “Til It Happens To You,” which served as the back bone of Hunting Ground (a documentary focused on assaults on college campuses).[4] Lady Gaga continues to note how a survivor is treated. Starting at 2 minutes and 34 seconds, Gaga suggest she was sickened by how Dr. Ford is treated – a feeling similarly felt by many #metoo participants.[5] For many of us, the only choice we feel we have been left with is how to share our stories. We are more than a hashtag.

 

[1] Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dockterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, “Person of the Year 2017: Silence Breakers,” Time, December 18, 2017, Accessed October 5, 2018, http://time.com/magazine/us/5055335/december-18th-2017-vol-190-no-25-u-s/.

[2] Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2014 (2015);

[3] Jacey Fortin, “#whyIdidntreport: Survivors of Sexual Assault Share Their Stories After Trump Tweet.” The New York Times, September 23, 2018, accessed October 1, 2018 via https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/us/why-i-didnt-report-assault-stories....

[4] Lady Gaga, “Til It Happens To You,” accessed October 6, 2018 via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmWBrN7QV6Y.

[5] Lady Gaga: Dr. Ford Spoke Up To Protect Us, accessed October 5, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=61&v=f2ldzqrvEk4.

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