Last week, the president of the United States defended his Supreme Court Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, against allegations of attempted rape. Dr. Christine Blasey alleges that 35 years ago, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17, he drunkenly attempted to rape her, covering her mouth while she screamed.
In response, women are shouting stories of their trauma from digital mountaintops — my Twitter timeline and Facebook newsfeed are filled with women talking about surviving sexual trauma. The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport began trending on Friday morning.
If it feels hauntingly familiar, that’s because it is. We’ve done this already.
Almost one year ago, The New York Times published its expose of Harvey Weinstein and the many allegations of sexual assault, harassment and exploitation against him. The New Yorker published another the same week, thus opening the floodgates for what became the Me Too movement.
Women ― and some similarly brave men ― exposed our wounds, ripped off scabs and shared our deepest pain in an effort to change the way women are treated not just at work but at home and out in the world. Some wrote essays, some wrote Facebook posts, some spoke to reporters and some simply tweeted “#MeToo.” The wave of women who came forward as victims of sexual violence or harassment was astonishing and remarkably powerful. Rape culture and sexual harassment were no longer something the public would or could contend with in private ― it was in everyone’s face, forcing us all to grapple with and confront it.
Somehow in that important process, though, surviving sexual violence became a dark take on a pre-existing social media trend, like Sunday brunch or your trip to Iceland: Post about it or it didn’t happen.
But is that really the system upon which we should rely on to solve this problem?
Any pressure to disclose these horror stories should fall squarely on the shoulders of men.
It’s been one week since Dr. Balsey came forward with her story in The Washington Post. In just seven days, she has been doxxed, hacked, threatened with death and forced to leave her home and separate from her children for their safety. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, has received endless support from President Donald Trump and the entire Republican party. Like the Me Too movement, where a seemingly endless amount of horror stories were mined and shared, many perpetrators have managed to dodge any modicum of accountability for their actions.
Harvey Weinstein, who 87 women have accused of sexual harassment or assault, bailed himself out of any criminal punishment. Louis C.K. is a similar case. Allegations of sexual harassment circulated online for years without his victims coming forward for fear of being entirely blacklisted from the industry. When they did finally come forward to The New York Times last October, C.K. ― who admitted to forcing women to watch him masturbate and ejaculate ― faced minor consequences before making an unannounced comeback last month. His victims finally came forward only for the comedian to walk into a comedy club and receive a standing ovation. Other “victims” of the Me Too movement, as their sympathizers have dubbed them, are also planning their comebacks.
It’s not that the movement wasn’t important or didn’t matter ― for many survivors, sharing their stories is empowering, and they should continue to do so if it still is. Victims’ statements mattered a year ago, like Blasey’s do today; everyone who chooses to share their story should be able to do so without the ensuing trauma and harassment. And the intention behind flooding Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines with horror stories is a valid one.
But ultimately, support and solidarity with survivors do not have to come at the cost of re-traumatization from sharing your own experience. Donations can be made to the Time’s Up legal defense fund; checking on friends and colleagues who you know are survivors is another way to participate, as is calling out men whose behavior falls anywhere on the scale of boorish to predatory. Donating money or time to women’s shelters, joining protests and marches, amplifying others’ stories through social media, joining grassroots political campaigns and supporting women in office are all ways of contributing to the mission of Me Too without having to insert your own personal story into it.
In fact, any pressure to disclose these horror stories should fall squarely on the shoulders of men: men who have perpetuated the crimes, men who have been present as those crimes happened and didn’t do anything to stop them (ahem, Mark Judge), and men who didn’t engage in predatory rhetoric but laughed along with it (ahem, Billy Bush).
These are the perpetrators of a cruel system. It should be on them to repair it.
Jenavieve Hatch is a politics reporter at HuffPost.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.