#MeToo starts an important conversation about sexual assault

Social media movement is the first step toward social change

You’ve likely noticed several “#MeToo” posts on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed, starting on Sunday evening.

The #MeToo movement was first started in 2007 by black activist Tarana Burke. She came up with the phrase as a way to personally connect with other survivors, particularly other young women of color. The movement was reawakened this weekend when actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet Sunday night, although Milano later said she was unaware of the phrase’s origins.

“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,” she tweeted, adding that if any of her followers had been sexually harassed or assaulted, they should write “me too” as a reply to her tweet.

The tweet received tens of thousands of replies, including messages from celebrities, such as Anna Paquin, Debra Messing, Laura Dreyfuss, Lady Gaga and Evan Rachel Wood. The movement soon spread to Facebook and Instagram. Some posters simply wrote “Me Too.” Others opened up about their experiences with sexual harassment or assault.

#MeToo is far from the first social media activism campaign; similar movements include the #YesAllWomen movement from 2014 and #EverydaySexism in 2012. While both of these movements drew attention to similar issues, there is something uniquely, profoundly personal about the #MeToo movement. In that sense, it may be more impactful than traditional activism because it is more personal; many people have an individual experience with sexual assault or harassment that they can share; at least allude to with a simple “Me Too” for those who are not comfortable going into detail.

But the movement could have adverse affects for the very reason it is so powerful; sharing personal stories of harassment and assault is painful, exhausting emotional labor that is constantly and unfairly demanded of survivors. This movement is empowering for many survivors and emboldens them to take a stance and share their stories.

But for others, it is a triggering, painful reminder that survivors often have to beg people to care about them, recounting their experiences just to get people to believe them and take them seriously. Survivors might also feel pressure to “out” themselves, which they might not feel comfortable doing, or may not be in a place where it is safe for them to do so.

For this reason, the editors at The Spectrum feel it would be a good idea for those sharing “Me Too” statuses to include information about hotlines and resources for survivors. These steps would help to alleviate some of the pain that survivors are feeling where they are being reminded of their assaults.

Social media as an activism platform can be limiting. Some editors felt reducing sexual violence to a social media hashtag minimizes or trivializes an issue; the goal should be to have an actual narrative, not just re-posting five letters.

The movement begs the question: how much real action in terms of policy change, cultural change and accessibility to sexual assault resources can a hashtag actually create? One option uses a Facebook tool that adds a link to a status for donations to any organization to your status. This provides a concrete step people can take that will make a difference for assault survivors.

Ultimately, the goal of #MeToo is to raise awareness and start a conversation, and it has certainly achieved both of those objectives. #MeToo is a simple yet powerful way to highlight how commonplace sexual violence is. Hopefully it has opened people’s eyes up to how widespread this issue is—and how ultimately, it is on the perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, not the victims to change their behavior.