After decades of campaigns to bring awareness to sexual assault and harassment victims, it was the rebirth of “Me Too” on Twitter that finally broke the dam.
The viral campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram began on Oct. 5, 2017, when actress Ashley Judd told the New York Times’ investigative team that Harvey Weinstein had her sent to his room in the Peninsula Beverly Hills. According to Judd, Weinstein wore only a bathrobe and asked if she would watch him shower or if he could give her a massage. As more accusations about Hollywood men began trickling in, they began to be shunned from the entertainment industry.
However, more than a decade before #MeToo flooded social media, Just Be Inc. founder and director Tarana Burke created the first Me Too movement. In 2006, after she listened in shock to a young girl’s story of sexual abuse, Burke started the movement as a support group for young women of color in low income communities. She wanted to let individual survivors know that they were not alone. Since then, Burke has worked tirelessly on focusing on young black and brown girls who have experienced sexual violence.
Though the movement has recently revealed the experiences of elite women in Hollywood, the details they share are not isolated incidents. People of all races, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and socioeconomic statuses can experience sexual violence. Even in university settings, women are not spared from the threat of sexual harassment and assault.
“We know that rape culture is everywhere at any university,” Dana Bisignani, the MSUM women’s center coordinator, said. “No one university is immune or prone to it, so we know that the problem is there.”
Bisignani outlined that rape culture extends well before college, meaning it can take considerable time and effort to eliminate ingrained cultural ideas and behaviors and replace them with something positive.
“By the time students get to college we’re trying to undo the cumulative effect of everything they’ve learned from movies and gossip and the internet,” Bisignani said. “It’s really hard to break through that, and if we’re unlearning that it becomes a matter of, ‘how do we behave now?’”
Though #MeToo has garnered the support of many public figures, it has not been without its criticism. On Jan. 9 this year, 100 prominent women in France published an open letter in Le Monde, a prominent French newspaper. The writers do not hesitate to explain their view that harassment and rape are crimes, and that they take sexual violence seriously. Their opinion, however, is that #MeToo has become “puritanical” and made women into “poor little things.” An uncomfortable conversation or a hand on the knee, as they say, is not grounds for harassment. The letter also states that the fervor in France has threatened the traditional art of seduction and flirtation.
As #MeToo continues to stir conversations across the globe, the issue of sexual violence can no longer simply be divided into the categories of legal and illegal. Rather, many argue, it is a matter of socialization and often a lack of understanding when it comes to consent.
When asked how conversations around consent could be improved, Bahati Numbi, a sophomore at MSUM, brought up freshmen orientation for new students.
“I think orientation should be a big moment for that. When they have the presentations about classes, they should show the freshmen a video about consent so everyone is there. You have to be there, even if you’re uncomfortable with that. You have to learn about consent, about rape. This is your obligation as a student. You should learn that.”
The university does make students take a mandatory class known as Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness (PETSA), but many students consider the class as just something to get through rather than as an opportunity to confront their own biases. There is also a small section of the FYE class dedicated to sexual violence.
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males on college campuses experience rape or assault. Although many men in Hollywood have been ostracized, victim blaming, silence and a lack of reporting minimize the rate at which survivors receive justice.
“Perpetrators are not being called out or even told why their behavior is so wrong, so they’re just going to keep doing it and keep socializing other people that it’s okay to keep doing it. It’s not being talked about,” senior Chloe Dougan said.
But the conversation has only just begun. What comes next will be a widespread exercise in listening and navigating a long-awaited change in society.