Sheena Bosket was in her therapist’s office earlier this year when she unraveled her history with sexual assault. She first opened up about being molested at age 8, then about being assaulted twice as an adult.
For Bosket and many others, #MeToo has given her the courage to share her experiences aloud.
“There’s more of a leg to stand on,” the 35-year-old Atlanta attorney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Women still aren’t equal and are still at a disadvantage, but one of our few powers now is strength in numbers.”
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Bosket hasn’t seen any of her alleged assaulters charged, nor has she reported the incidents to authorities.
One year after the movement took social media by storm, Bosket feels sure that if something inappropriate were to happen with a man again, she would report it immediately.
“If I lose my job, fine. If people don’t believe me, fine,” she said. “I’m making a conscious choice and I’m going to speak out. I’ve had enough.”
A year ago Monday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted two simple words in a call to action against sexual assault and harassment. After The New York Times published an article detailing decades of alleged sexual misconduct by movie producer Harvey Weinstein, women started to come forward and accuse the movie mogul with allegations ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault. As a growing number of women spoke out against Weinstein, legions of women used social media to share their own experiences of sexual harassment, assault, catcalling, unwanted attention and abuse.
And at the same time, these two little words with a powerful message found their way into conversations at the office, over drinks with friends, on college campuses, even at dinner tables in homes right here in metro Atlanta.
The social movement originated a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke, who was helping victims of sexual harassment and assault. She wanted to create opportunities for women to heal, and she started a “Me Too” campaign.
But it was one year ago when #MeToo went viral online, quickly gaining steam after Milano encouraged others to speak out.
On Oct. 17 of last year, only two days after the hashtag caught fire, nearly half the people in the United States were friends with someone who had posted “Me Too,” according to Facebook.
Millions of people around the globe have used #MeToo on Twitter and posted “Me Too” on Facebook. For many, the stories revealed that sexual harassment and violence can happen to any woman — anywhere. It wasn’t long before #MeToo wasn’t just two simple words — it was a movement.
Sexual harassment remained in the headlines with more famous men accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault — from Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer to Charlie Rose to Bill Cosby, who was recently sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in his home.
Nadine Kaslow, a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, said #MeToo let a powerful genie out of a bottle.
Kaslow and other observers say #MeToo is converting into real-world changes, but we must do a better job of focusing on preventive measures, and provide better support for survivors of sexual assault.
“We need to keep encouraging people to come forward and do a way better job of listening,” she said. “Not invalidating, saying they were young, drunk, it doesn’t count. It was no big deal.”
Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men reported experiencing rape at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of sexual assaults, and as many as two-thirds, are not reported to the authorities, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated by RAINN, has seen about a 30 percent increase in calls since the rise of #MeToo, and the day after Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the busiest day in the hotline’s 24-year history.
Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that preliminary data showed sexual harassment complaints filed during this fiscal year rose by more than 12 percent as compared to that same period in 2017. Additionally, sexual harassment claims were part of 41 lawsuits brought by the EEOC during this fiscal year, a more than 50 percent uptick in legal actions addressing that type of abuse as compared to the previous fiscal year.
Ilene Berman, labor and employment practice group leader at the Taylor English law firm in Atlanta, said sensitivities to inappropriate workplace behavior have been heightened, and employers are being closely scrutinized on how they respond to complaints of harassment.
Berman, who works with employers, said the movement took her by surprise.
“I didn’t see it coming, and this is what I do every day,” she said. “People were really emboldened. People realized they were not the exception to the rule. It was not just about them. That they were part of something bigger.”
Before the #MeToo movement emerged last year, Berman said, employers had become complacent in the need for regular training on anti-harassment policies and reminding employees how they should treat one another in the workplace. Now, employees, either directly or indirectly, are demanding harassment prevention education for both managers and rank-and-file employees and are seeking assurances that their concerns will be taken seriously and addressed appropriately, in a retaliatory-free environment.
With employers investing in harassment prevention training, employees have become more comfortable bringing up not only real-time incidents of harassment, but also disclosing incidents from the distant past about which they want their employers to know and address. That’s a good thing and one of the positive upshots of the movement, said Berman, who regularly advises her clients on sexual harassment in the workplace.
So what should harassment prevention training look like? Attendance, she said, should be mandatory for everyone from the CEO and other members of the C-suite to the rank and file. Training should include the following: educating employees on what constitutes harassment; civility training and respect awareness; a review of the company’s reporting procedures; and an understanding of what an investigation into a harassment complaint looks like.
A year after the #MeToo movement began, anxiety about false accusations is also looming. A new poll by the media firm Morning Consult finds most people are equally concerned for men facing possible false allegations as they are for women facing sexual assault.
And a nationwide survey from Vox and Morning Consult also found that a majority of women — 63 percent — “were very or somewhat concerned about false accusations.” False reports of sexual assault are rare at 2 percent to 10 percent, according to studies cited by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Despite concerns about false accusations, women aren’t backing down from the movement.
A cultural shift appears already underway at college campuses.
Jessica Kubert, Atlanta outreach coordinator for Emory University’s Sexual Assault Peer Advocates, said conversations about sexual violence are happening with more frequency, adding, “Female students are more willing to open up … and male students are more willing to listen.”
Kubert, a junior at Emory University, said she was encouraged when a fraternity recently hosted an event with Men Stopping Violence, which among other things, discussed the definition of consent. Kubert said the conversation must continue, and there’s a need for more support for survivors of sexual assault as well as opportunities for all college students to gather and share their personal experiences, and engage in discussions about consent, sexual assault and ways to stop it from happening.
“I am hopeful these conversations we are having in intellectual spaces will carry over into interactions with people and in our relationships,” Kubert said.
RESOURCES AND SUPPORT
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline — 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), online.rainn.org — in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
The National Dating Abuse Helpline, operating the 24/7 text, phone, and live chat services, helps teens who are in, or may be in, abusive relationships. Users call 1-866-331-9474 to be connected with an advocate who is trained to offer education, support and advocacy to those involved in dating abuse relationships as well as concerned friends, siblings, parents, teachers, law enforcement members and service providers. The live chat (IM-style) of the helpline is another way for users to contact a peer advocate.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. Through this hotline, an advocate can provide resources such as safehouse shelters, and crisis intervention. 1−800−799−SAFE (7233). Assistance is available in English and Spanish with access to more than 170 languages through telephonic interpreter services.