Between Texas-based theatre franchise Alamo Drafthouse and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it’s felt like a new story has broken every week for the past month alleging the abusive, predatory histories of powerful men. These stories are often met with shock and outrage from the general public, but usually fade into the background as the news cycle shifts focus elsewhere, especially given today’s erratic political climate.
Yet more than two weeks after The New York Times originally published its exposé on Harvey Weinstein alleging decades of sexual harassment and assault, his face is still plastered across the media. As other men in the entertainment industry publicly respond in defence of or to condemn Weinstein, news of their own sexually abusive natures are brought to light. While it’s incredibly powerful that these men are finally being taken to task for their violence, survivors like me have spent the past few weeks reliving our trauma being constantly exposed to these stories.
As a survivor of workplace-adjacent sexual violence who has become a vocal feminist advocate, these stories are disgustingly unsurprising and too familiar to me. In February 2015, I went to my managers to report that I had been raped by a colleague. Initially, I thought they wanted to protect me. Unfortunately, as the administrative proceedings dragged on, it was clear that they were more interested in protecting themselves and my rapist, who was one of their best-performing employees. I filed a harassment complaint against them at the end of that year. Two years later, it has yet to be finalized.
According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, sexual assault is still one of the most prevalent yet underreported crimes. Between 2004 and 2014, the rate of sexual assault remained consistent, whereas the rate for other crimes decreased. In 2014, there were 22 self-reported incidents of sexual assault per 1,000 Canadians over the age of 15. In 52 percent of those incidents, the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance of the survivor.
Considering that most survivors have a personal relationship with their assailant, some might feel that their experience is invalid compared to other stories they’ve seen in the media. Minimizing or denying one’s experience is also a common reaction to trauma. As such, statistics that rely on survivors being comfortable outright labelling their experience as sexual assault don’t accurately reflect the magnitude of the problem.
Despite these reports, it’s clear that society still can’t quite grasp that a majority of women and femmes are victimized at least once in their lifetimes. We’ve seen survivors put faces to these statistics, collecting their stories under hashtags like #NotOkay, #BeenRapedNeverReported or #YesAllWomen to campaign for change. In direct response to widespread stories of abuse that now more than 40 women have detailed about Weinstein, Alyssa Milano resurrected #MeToo, a movement originally started by activist Tarana Burke more than a decade ago.
These campaigns create a space for survivors to share their stories, fostering a sense of solidarity among us while proving sexual violence is endemic. They are a reminder of the hazard inherent in simply existing as women or femmes, and of how much work there is to do to end rape culture once and for all. In a world that defaults to gaslighting and shaming survivors for coming forward, it’s important that we know that we are not alone in our pain.
The #MeToo hashtag went viral almost immediately; it was shared more than 500,000 times within its first 24 hours. Though certainly well-intentioned, social media also can be a hostile space for some survivors: not only are we exposed to wall-to-wall coverage of Weinstein right now, but #MeToo introduces graphic, triggering details of other survivors’ experiences into our feeds, often without warning. Especially on platforms that don’t protect their users (*cough* Twitter *cough), this opens us up to further harassment and gaslighting. Social media campaigns burden survivors with the emotional labour of affecting change, pressuring us to relive our trauma and share our experiences over and over again, even though we literally didn’t ask for any of this.
Personally, I’ve felt especially suffocated by the coverage surrounding Weinstein’s abuse. Navigating a news cycle saturated in recounting decades’ worth of his predatory patterns has re-triggered symptoms of my own post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve felt particularly full of rage, grief and anxiety over the past two weeks. As a highly sensitive empath, it’s weighed heavily on me knowing that so many people lived in painful silence for decades.
My advocacy was born from that deep empathy. In learning to cope with my trauma, becoming a feminist advocate was ultimately crucial to my survival and healing. I knew I could never change what already happened to me, but I learned how to transform my trauma into fuel for my passion as an activist. Actively choosing to share my experience, in a way that I strive to ensure is respectful of other survivors, is a productive and positive exercise of leveraging my pain to advocate for and support them.
While the Weinstein news cycle has been painful and re-traumatizing, it has helped me remember how to transform the negative into something positive. Giving myself the space to empathize, and to feel that rage and grief is what has strengthened my resolve to destroy the culture that enabled Weinstein to abuse so many for so long. The list of predatory men certainly seems never-ending, but for once, the strong reaction to this particular news cycle gives me hope that change is actually forthcoming. Here’s hoping we’ll never need another #MeToo, and here’s hoping that the silence is finally over.
It’s Time to Ditch the Euphemisms and Call Sexual Harassment What It Is
Anne T. Donahue: Rape Culture Is Everywhere (And Other Lessons From Harvey Weinstein)
Rose McGowan Isn’t Buying Ben Affleck’s Weinstein Statement—and Neither Are We
The Disturbingly Long List of All the Women Who Have Accused Harvey Weinstein (So Far)