Last fall saw a groundswell of discussion around the truth about sexual assault and harassment in today’s society, now known as the #MeToo movement. Outside of social media, there has been wide-spanning coverage from essentially every news source. From heart-wrenching personal stories to the news pieces on the sleazy underbelly in Hollywood and the Olympics, we were witnessing a moment in time that shed light on the realities of the sexual violence epidemic. Many people agreed it was long overdue.

I am a sexual assault advocate and violence prevention educator. From my perspective, there have been many great things about this movement. It showed the immense prevalence of sexual assault and harassment — many more than most people understood. The movement personalized sexual violence by giving it a face. Many faces, actually. Some of those faces were familiar, which likely both surprised and also lent credibility. Survivors felt empowered by the movement. Those who had never shared their stories began to speak for the first time. They began to realize they were not alone in their pain. People were demanding action and change.

If you are like many of us, you may have shared some relevant articles on social media and maybe even busted some myths or shut down victim-blaming comments. So, what now? Do we call it good? Is that enough? Can we pat ourselves on the back for being “woke” now?

Don’t get me wrong. The past few months have been an amazing start, but there is so much more work to do. Now is when the heavy lifting happens. Now is when we hold ourselves and others accountable.

We can start by examining our own beliefs and actions. Do you ever call people derogatory names such as “slut” based on the way they dress, their flirtatious natures or number of partners you believe them to have? How about refusing to believe a victim or excusing/sympathizing with a perpetrator because they had so much to lose? Have you made sexist, homophobic or transphobic comments? Have you ever endorsed rape as a punishment for someone in prison who committed a sexual assault?

We also need to expand the scope of #MeToo to be inclusive of all survivors. In that important moment in time, many males felt like they were not included, or welcomed to stand up as survivors. Yes, there was power in women using their voices and the hashtag to illuminate the scope of the problem. But sexual assault and harassment does not only happen to women, or people brave enough to speak up. Males, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people who have a disability or are elderly/aged, military veterans and people who are incarcerated must also be included in the discussion and be given visibility as survivors.

Seeing this on such a grand scale, maybe for the first time, can be disheartening and overwhelming. But we must continue to believe, even when the numbers of people speaking up seem to be growing to proportions that you find unimaginable. This is not about people “jumping on the bandwagon,” for I can assure you this is not a bandwagon that anyone would choose to be on. This is about people finally feeling that they can identify themselves as a survivor and be heard and believed. Even if what happened was many years ago. Believe.

With all of this new awareness, it can be easy to feel helpless. So here are some things that each of us can do.

We can speak up even when it is not comfortable. We can speak out against rape culture even when we know the other party might become angry or stop being our friend. We can say something when we are in a group and we know we might be the only one to dissent. We can talk to our children about sexual violence (on an age appropriate level, of course). We can teach our children about consent, and boundaries, and about respecting other people’s boundaries.

Change is never easy, but it is necessary. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

And so, we have a choice. We can work toward the prevention of sexual violence or, by doing nothing, we can cooperate in the continuation of this epidemic.

Which will you choose?

Jenn Bell is the educator advocate for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, Farmington office.

Jenn Bell


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