RED ZONE: #MeToo

Me Too.pngThe “Me Too” movement experienced a second wave of attention after actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag on her Twitter account on Oct. 15. Milano used the hashtag #metoo to draw attention to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and how she was affected. Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, including Milano.

Tarana Burke is the original creator of the “Me Too” campaign back in 2007. Burke created the campaign to reach out to sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities and wanted them to be able to connect to one another.

Milano shared the following message on her Twitter account: “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Milano then encouraged others to share the hashtag #metoo. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write “me too” as a reply to this tweet,” Milano wrote. A week later, as of publication, her tweet has received more than 68,000 comments, 25,000 shares and was liked 53,000 times.

Today, the power of social media enables people from all over the world to do exactly that: find community, encouragement and develop the understanding that they aren’t alone with their experiences. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 130,000 sexual assaults occur in the United States each year, more than 350 per day.

Alaska reports one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country. In October of 2016, the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center released data regarding UA students, which states that 14.9 percent of female students, 2,183 women, and an estimated 5.8 percent of male students, 610 men, experienced sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or both between January 2015 and the spring semester of 2016.

With these numbers, it is no surprise that numerous Alaskan women have participated in the #metoo movement.

Genevieve Ann Fayette, education major, thinks that participation in the movement is highly important to induce change in society.

“To all the people, men and women, feeling like they cannot participate for some reason or another, I would say to feel comfortable to participate in any way that they feel safe. Whether that’s posting the hashtag, posting the hashtag and talking about their story, or just talking about their story,” Fayette said. “Also, to think about the way you perpetuate a culture of silence and a rape culture. Whether that is through your sense of humor and your reaction to your friends, who have gone through those things. Really listen and think about how the things you say and the way you respond to it is going to affect those people.”

Sofia Fouquet, business marketing and management graduate and former SafeZone trainer at UAA, is a supporter of the movement and has shared the hashtag on her Facebook profile.

“Most women can rattle off a list of times their bodies have been treated like someone else’s property. I wasn’t sure it was going to make a difference outside my usual positive feedback loop, and I’ve been pleasantly proven wrong,” Fouquet said. “A few of my male acquaintances have started honest, thoughtful conversations with me about the nature of sexual assault and how men and women’s experiences shape the way we see our interactions with others.”

Samantha Mack, teaching assistant for the English department, hopes that the movement will encourage bystanders of sexual harassment or assault to take an active role.

“We live in a system where victims of injustice are often afraid to speak out, sometimes because of stigma, sometimes because of fear of retribution, sometimes for one of countless other reasons,” Mack said. “My hope is that this movement serves as a face-slap for every person who has ever stood by, turned a blind-eye or otherwise pretended not to notice. It’s not okay. We have to do better.”

The uniqueness of the #metoo movement is that it is a public statement indicating individuals’ experiences with sexual assault or harassment without disclosing further details. #metoo creates awareness of the extent of sexual misconducts in the community.

“Starting a conversation doesn’t always feel like a monumental leap, but it’s how you start a cultural paradigm shift,” Fouquet said. “I’ve heard the argument, ‘If you don’t share your stories, how can I learn from them?’ Seriously? If you need me to describe an assault in order to avoid doing it yourself, you are part of the problem. If you feel owed an explanation before being willing to take steps to end rape culture, you are part of the problem.”

Fayette agrees that the hashtag alone can have a positive effect on the community, but also argues that an open approach to the topic will further improve the fight against silencing victims of sexual harassment and assault.

“I think that the nature of the social media hashtag movement makes it a lot easier for people to open up about their experiences,” Fayette said. “But I think the hashtag’s vagueness has some problems because we are still not talking about it openly. It’s still kind of hidden, which is fine because survivors don’t have to talk about it if they don’t want to. But it is important that they feel comfortable doing so, if they chose so, without being ridiculed or shamed.”

Sexual harassment and assault exist in various extends and can affect individuals differently. Nobody’s experience should be compared to one another or judged.

UAA students, who are victims of sexual assault, can file reports anonymously on the University Police Department website and can also receive mental health support through UAA’s Student Health and Counseling Center and UAA Psychological Services. UAA students taking six or more credits can schedule appointments at the Health and Counseling Center by calling 907-786-4040.