The recent social media “trend” #MeToo follows numerous cases of sexual assault allegations revealed in the media. Although this can be a positive method for folks to share their story, empowered by the incredible number of women and men posting in solidarity, it is also problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is important to note that this movement was originally established by a black woman, Tarana Burke, about 10 years ago. The original intention behind the movement was to touch the lives of sexual assault survivors in oppressed communities, specifically black women. Note its current popularity, as many of the participants are now white women. Of course, every survivor deserves the space and support they need to tell their story if they so choose, but we should recognize the movement’s original message. In Burke’s own words, “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow… It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” See full interview here.
Another reason this trend can be problematic is that it can be both triggering subject matter (often unaccompanied by content warnings), and can also put pressure on survivors to announce their deeply personal stories and trauma. Similarly, while we should acknowledge that sexual assault rates are highest in women, this movement must not exclude survivors of other genders.
We must be conscious moving forward of the varied needs of individual survivors—what can be empowering to one person may be anxiety-inducing to another. As always, support your friends. It is extremely important that survivors of sexual assault know that they have the power to choose whether to share or conceal their experiences; it should never be an expectation.
Alternatively, if someone does choose to declare their story via social media, they should never feel shamed from their friends.
A final word—it is not necessarily enough for folks to understand the “scope” of sexual assault (although this is very educational for some); this movement should be a call to action for those with the privilege to combat sexual assault and rape culture in the spaces they occupy. That being said, despite its shortcomings, this movement has been a positive and empowering platform for many survivors.
Rachel Whitfield is the Director of Marketing for FORUM and a student graphic designer for OU Human Resources. She is a Junior double majoring in Writing and Marketing with a Spanish minor.