“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.”
It was this tweet from Alyssa Milano, after dozens of women came out with accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, that inspired more survivors to share the hashtag #MeToo and share their stories.
This isn’t the first time this message has been used to start a conversation about sexual assault. Tarana Burke, an activist from New York, first started the “Me Too” movement more than 10 years ago as a way to empower young women survivors, especially women of color.
“She tells a story about how a little girl shared her experience with her, and Tarana Burke didn’t know what to say and struggled to say the right thing when what she wanted to say was, ‘Me too,’” said Sara Lampert, assistant professor of history and program coordinator for women, gender and sexuality studies.
Forty-five percent of Facebook users have had friends who posted “me too,” according to a CBS article. The hashtag was tweeted nearly 1 million times in 48 hours on Twitter, the article stated.
Alyssa Fothergill is a sophomore secondary education major. She shared the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter last week, posting, “I’m a victim of sexual assault who is empowered to help other victims.”
Fothergill said she experienced sexual assault at a Christmas party in December. She said as a victim, the blame for her assault was put on her because she went out that night.
She said she believes blame is too often put on the victim for what they were wearing or who they were with.
“I was trying to leave a party and when I was walking outside, they had pulled me around the house and into a side door. It was in a dark room,” she said. “I didn’t see a face, I didn’t hear a voice, I couldn’t tell you who my assaulter was.”
She tried to walk home, but she had to call a friend to pick her up because she couldn’t walk. Her first emotions after the assault were shock, fear and sadness.
“It was like all of a sudden, there was this hole in my stomach that was just like the worst feeling in the world,” she said. “It was like I was frozen and didn’t know what to feel, just like everything hit me at once.”
Fothergill said it ruined her thoughts and ate her alive. She eventually felt safe telling her friends and family, and they were understanding and supportive.
“It eventually got to the point where I just felt like I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “It helped to just talk about it, just knowing that someone was there.”
In May, Fothergill decided to start a chapter of PAVE on campus. PAVE is a national organization that promotes awareness and victim empowerment, with the mission of “shattering the silence of sexual violence,” according to the PAVE national website.
“I knew that I wanted something like this on campus,” she said. “I found PAVE and I loved everything that they stood for. It’s a way to unite victims, to show that together, we are strong.”
Fothergill reached out to Marisa Cummings, ICARE coordinator and faculty advisor, about starting a chapter at USD.
“I was super excited that she wanted to start the student organization about bringing awareness to sexual assault,” Cummings said. “A lot of these movements are student-driven and student-led, and to know that there were students who engaged and interested in educating their peers is very powerful.”
After sharing her post, Fothergill said other survivors reached out to her and thanked her, including students who were interested in joining PAVE. The chapter now has 75 members at USD.
“I had a couple people who messaged me on Twitter saying, ‘This is actually really inspiring to me, you’re my hero for doing this,’” she said. “That touched my heart that (they) could reach out to me through this.”
Her plans for PAVE include hosting a 5k run in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Fothergill’s focus for the organization is to raise awareness on college campuses, and to educate about consent.
“Consent is everything,” she said. “Consent is love, consent is sober, consent is consistent, consent is mutual. It takes both parties to understand what consent is.”
Fothergill said she has a message for the survivors who didn’t feel safe sharing #MeToo on social media.
“I just want them to know that they’re strong and they’re loved,” she said. “This doesn’t have to change them at all. We’re all with each other on this, and they don’t have to be alone.”
Megan Street, a former Volante staff member, posted #MeToo on Facebook last week.
A senior anthropology major and member of Spectrum, Street said they had been at a middle school dance, and heard a group of boys say they were planning to rape them. They didn’t tell anyone at the time because they felt nothing would be done.
“People would have said, ‘Oh, you blew it out of proportion, boys will be boys,'” Street said. “I kind of swept it under the rug. I didn’t think about it, and it didn’t register to me that I was in very real danger that night.”
Lampert said more conversations and education needs to happen to help people share their stories.
“We need to give (people) the language to identify and talk about when they are being abused and also create the spaces in which they can get help,” Lampert said.
Street said when they were 16, they had a boyfriend who became obsessive and pushed boundaries in the relationship.
“I would tell him things like please don’t hug me, please don’t kiss me today and he wouldn’t listen, like he would grab on even tighter,” Street said. “He never took no for an answer.”
Street said they wished more people would educate themselves on signs of abuse and domestic violence.
“My friends would say later after I broke up with him over the summer that they had seen that I was feeling uncomfortable, but they didn’t do anything about it,” Street said. “They didn’t want to step in. I wish they would have, because I was not happy being alone with him or anything like that.”
As a member of Spectrum and someone who identifies as non-binary, Street said there are more victims of sexual assault in the LGBTQ+ community than in the general population.
“We’re really in the middle of an epidemic with it, not just within the LGBTQ+ community, but worldwide as a whole,” Street said. “LGBTQ+ people who are already probably going through mentally tough times, physically tough times, and (it adds) more insult to injury with trying to find out who you are.”
Krista Honomichl, a sophomore criminal justice and political science double major and member of Students for Reproductive Rights, shared #MeToo on social media last week. She said she shared the hashtag because it’s part of an important, yet difficult conversation.
“We don’t like to talk about these issues,” Honomichl said. “Until we really begin to start this conversation, nothing is going to be done.”
Honomichl said when she was 15, she was involved in a relationship that turned manipulative and coercive.
“I was young, naive,” she said. “I was just so engrossed in the idea that someone else was interested in me that I didn’t really notice what was going on.”
Until now, Honomichl said she never shared one of her most painful memories of the relationship.
“He made me feel like it was something I owed him,” she said. “The first time it actually happened, I didn’t want to do it. I told him, ‘No, stop,’ and I vividly still have these words engraved into my head today, but he basically told me he was doing this for me and I should enjoy it.”
Honomichl said it’s important to continue discussions about sexual assault.
“If we just continue to sweep the issue under the rug and pretend it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t exist, that’s when rape culture will continue to fester,” she said. “It’s important that those who are not sharing — people who have never experienced this — step back and think about how much this is impacting other people, and start to ask themselves what they can do to make a difference. It shouldn’t rely on these people willing to share their stories.”
Honomichl said she hopes the dialogue about sexual assault doesn’t end with the hashtag.
“It’s got to be farther if we want anything to be done,” she said. “I’m really hoping people take this opportunity to start engaging in this conversation.”