Since Oct. 15, a viral campaign has been setting a new example for the power of speech, and it does it with only two words.
The “Me Too” campaign took off on social media sites everywhere, giving anyone who has ever been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed the opportunity to speak up and stand for others who can’t.
One of the more overlooked issues when it comes to the repercussions of sexual abuse is just trying to talk about it. “Me Too” aims to be the encouragement victims need to find their voice.
“Me Too” also started with the idea in mind that there are millions of victims who are too scared to speak up, in hopes of creating a chain reaction showing how anyone could be affected by harassment, whether it be a friend, relative or next door neighbor.
A senior psychology major at Northwest, who asked to be referred to as Brittany, says taking ownership of her story is not only the best thing she can do for herself, but for others as well. She involved herself with “Me Too” in order to accomplish this goal.
“Sexual assault is something a large number of people face,” Brittany said. “It is an epidemic that mentally, physically and emotionally harms those who have survived it. Opening up a dialogue about it can help survivors heal.”
Brittany explained how and why she thinks coming out about abuse or an abuser is one of the hardest things someone can do. It isn’t as simple as just saying something as many like to think. Brittany knows talking about something this serious is one of the most difficult things a person can do.
“When you tell someone what happened to you, you are exposed,” Brittany said. “And every survivor knows what I mean when I say you get ‘the look.’ People look at you with eyes full of pity as if you are a broken piece of glass that needs to be fixed.”
The only thing more staggering than the massive number of people coming out through “Me Too,” which, on Facebook alone has now reached more than 12 million users, is the kind of people coming out.
Mike Mattock, a counselor who has worked at Northwest for 14 years, says the campaign seen with “Me Too” is offering a type of support system that has never really been seen before on such a scale. He says this support system is doing more than just helping victims speak up.
“Now they’re not only coming out to a family member or whoever. They actually have a cohort of people who can say ‘hey, this happened to me too,’” Mattock said. “It’s something that is different than before. It’s something that I think is needed to give people the sense of support they need to speak up. It’s a very important step.”
It’s not easy to put oneself out there, much less in the revealing light illuminated by sexual abuse. So those who are well known in a community likely have even more pressure when considering whether or not to share their story.
Lauren Leach-Steffens, an associate professor in behavioral sciences, has been teaching at Northwest for 19 years. Steffens says she spoke up not only to raise awareness, but to help end the stigma surrounding victims of any type of sexual harassment.
“During one of my attacks I was 13, wearing unappealing clothes and in bad shape,” Steffens said. “So when I hear someone say, ‘well you shouldn’t have worn revealing clothing,’ all I can think is ‘I was dressed like a fat kid, OK?’ You just get tired of being blamed. There is a lot of blame and it all comes from different directions, sometimes even friends and family.”
Steffens thinks these attitudes come from a place of denial. She says it isn’t so much a matter of ignorance, it is more centered around people just wanting to believe they live in a good world where everyone gets what they deserve.
Steffens knows she has a place as a role model at Northwest, and it is this exact reason she chose to speak up when she did.
“I can afford to be ridiculed in a way that a lot of younger people can’t,” Steffens said. “They don’t have to tell their story to everyone, they don’t have to give up their anonymity. But if they feel they can talk to somebody or trust and somebody who will listen, then they may be able to be in a better place because someone like me spoke up.”
According to endsexualviolence.org, one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Even more distressing, is only about 2 percent of all sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. These statistics are posted all of the time, so grasping the gravity of the situation can be hard when they are seen too often.
Elyzabeth Weary, a sophomore special education major, dislikes the dismissal she sees of statistics like these. She says the importance of “Me Too” isn’t limited to giving some a place to speak up, it has a secondary focus of winning the small battles, in hopes of winning the war.
“This movement is important not only so people do not feel alone, but so we can stop small acts of harassment that lead people who think that what they are doing is okay,” Weary said. “We are not just a statistic. We are people who bear this awful burden where others shame, belittle and blame.”
Assault and harassment aren’t the only things able to change a person. The constant blaming and distrust in victims of harassment and assault can negatively affect someone too.
Brooke T., a pharmaceutical worker in Maryville, says giving the victims of harassment and assault a face is an important puzzle piece in creating awareness. She says this will slow down the chances of something occurring while keeping victims from dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.
“Before the incident occurred, I had a very innocent and pure way of thinking,” Brooke said. “I was only about 6-years-old the first time something of this nature happened to me. My incident changed me mentally, I was afraid to trust people and for a long time I associated those activities with pain and fear.”
Every age, position, friend or foe can be affected by sexual abuse or harassment. So it’s important to know what someone may be going through when dealing with the repercussions of unwanted advances.
Sometimes the signs of a friend or loved one being affected are hard to find, but sometimes it’s just as easy as logging on to see them finally saying me too.