There is a huge amount of stigma surrounding victims of sexual assault, and unfortunately, there is a culture of victim blaming that can make people unwilling to come forward. It is quite usual to hear people talk of the victim’s attire having something to do with how they were treated, or how late they were out, or how drunk they may or may not have been. However, the plethora of personal accounts has made it clear - especially within the film and TV industries - how much this attitude, and other attitudes that dismiss the seriousness of these offences, have caused an environment where the victims doubt themselves and do not come forward for fear of being ostracised. Among the many accounts of young women feeling that they had to put up with certain behaviours for the sake of their careers, there are stories of men being put in that situation too, showing that this is not an issue that is specific to a certain demographic. Terry Crews reported how he was groped at a party by Hollywood Executive Adam Venit and felt powerless to physically defend himself for fear of being seen as a thug, but he was also afraid of not being believed or being ridiculed. If a 6’3” ex NFL star who weighs in at 240lbs felt emasculated and unable to do anything in that situation, then it is easy to see why a young woman in the early stages of her career might feel that there is no choice but to accept what is happening to her. The mass of personal accounts helped to shift that blame from the accuser to the accused, helping to let those people who have been victims of sexual assault feel liberated enough to come forward early on.
As mentioned before, the main benefit of this campaign is that it opened up everyone’s eyes to the sheer scale of the problem. Over 4.5 million people used the hashtag in the first 24 hours on Facebook alone, and 45% of Facebook users in the United States had at least one friend who had posted a personal account of sexual assault. By giving people a voice and showing the world just how widespread this problem is, the campaign has done a lot to show solidarity and support to those who have been assaulted. It is very easy to ignore a problem when it is only whispered about behind closed doors or mentioned briefly during a sensational tabloid headline. However, by using social media to create a platform for the entire world to share their personal accounts, it has made the issue far more difficult to ignore.
The benefit of allowing a huge amount of people to open up about their experiences is that it allows people to create a dialogue. Many victims were unsure if what happened to them constituted as sexual assault and so stayed quiet. Sexual assault is legally classed as any unwanted sexual contact. This means that something as ‘seemingly innocuous’ as a hand on the thigh, or ‘accidentally’ brushing against someone’s privates, is classed as sexual assault and should be treated as such. Many times, victims of this kind of attack feel that they would be wasting the police’s time or would not be taken seriously, but the conversations surrounding the online posts show a different story. The narrative is changing, and people are saying that these kinds of ‘minor’ attacks have been ignored and minimised for too long. The time has come for people to come forward and start talking about this issue and change people’s perspective on what is acceptable.
The topic of consent has been at the forefront of the conversation regarding sexual assault and rape, with many arguing that there are grey areas and inconsistencies with regards to the terminology. Whilst it is true that the often used phrase of ‘no means no’ might not be as fool-proof as it once was, that does not mean that things are difficult to understand. Some people may try to argue that unless a resounding ‘no’ was said at some point, or a struggle ensued, then you cannot class the event as rape. However, this very narrow way of looking at the situation does not take into account the complexities of human emotion and interaction. It is quite usual for a victim to feel that they are unable to put up a struggle or to feel forced into consenting. There is a very well written video that has been circling the internet for a number of years that has a perfect analogy to help ease any misunderstandings. It likens consent to a cup of tea. If you offer someone tea, and they say they don’t want a cup of tea, then you don’t make them a cup of tea. If they said yes but in the time it’s taken you to make it they’ve decided they no longer want a cup of tea, you would not force them to drink it anyway. Likewise, if you made them a cup of tea once that they enjoyed, that does not mean that they have to drink your tea every time you decide to make them a cup. And if you make someone some tea, but they’ve fallen asleep by the time you’ve made it, you don’t wake them up to drink the tea or try to force them to drink it whilst they are asleep. This simple, but funny analogy makes the whole ‘grey area’ argument seem incredibly silly and short-sighted. Not only that, but it is a fantastic tool to use if anyone ever finds themselves in a situation involving consent and they aren’t too sure what to do or what is okay.
In conclusion, though the #MeToo campaign may not have ‘fixed’ anything to stop these attacks happening, it has certainly opened up the world’s eyes to the scale of the problem and got people talking more openly about it. Which is the first step along the path to a better world.