How Can We Move Beyond #MeToo?
It has been a year now since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and women across the nation started posting #MeToo on social media indicating that they too had once been the victim of sexual violence. Has the movement made a big difference in our culture, laws or social norms? What has changed in our country? Not much.
We have heard countless stories over the past year about sexual harassment, assault and rape. Brave women (and even some men) have come forward and described stories. We’ve heard of sexual assaults that lasted mere moments but left victims feeling traumatized and unsafe. Sexual harassment has been a frequent topic in the news. A handful of survivors have even shared their stories of horrific rape. But I ask you again, what significant change has happened in this country as a response to the brave individuals who have come forward to share?
I like to think that awareness has spread. Hopefully more of the general public understands the definitions of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Some powerful men have lost their jobs or careers. The GOP Senators hired a female prosecutor when they were questioning a Dr. Ford instead of asking questions themselves. But is this really all?
I believe our country can do better. We as individuals can do better. The survivors who have stood before our nation and shared publicly the worst moments of their life deserve more. Women young and old telling a friend or family member what they experienced deserve to feel supported. And to be honest, the men in our lives deserve for real change to happen.
I have a few ideas how we as individuals, and as a society, can make lasting changes and move #BeyondMeToo.
Make it Safe for Men to Take Responsibility for Past Mistakes
I’ve recently heard the argument made that some sexual assaults aren’t a big deal, because they are so common. In fact, it’s even been jokingly stated that sexual assault is a male rite of passage. The truth is that until now, sexual assault has been very, very common. I think the first step to changing our culture is to acknowledge that.
This means that there are many, many, many males in our country right now who in the past have acted in a way that was sexually aggressive. They assumed a woman “didn’t mean it” when she said no. Men who encouraged a young woman to drink too much knowing they’d be more likely to have sex when they were drunk. There are men who chose to assume a woman was “into it” even though she was so distressed that she simply froze. Perhaps they didn’t look at her face so didn’t have to see the fear in her eyes. They kept trying until they convinced a girlfriend to go just a little bit further.
Many of these men may not have been to hurt the other person, but they did. They were acting in a way that while terrible has been generally accepted in the past and they didn’t realize was so hurtful. While the man was able to move on and move on with his life, the female may have been traumatized. We need to encourage men to be honest, take responsibility for their past mistakes and move forward with a better understanding of consent.
I have heard over and over again from survivors that the Kavanaugh hearings have been very triggering. Would it have been different if he had said, “I don’t remember assaulting Ford. I am horrified by the accusation. The truth is that I drank a lot and it’s possible I did something I don’t remember. I am devastated my actions had a lasting impact on her.” What would have happened if he had said that? Would it have opened up doors for other men to take responsibilities for mistakes as well? Would it have normalized men expressing regret for past mistakes? How would we have responded as a nation? Would we have praised him for admitting his mistake? Would the country have shown compassion for someone who truly regretted their past actions?
Sometimes, Good Men Have Made Bad Mistakes
Good people do bad things, and not all men who have sexual assaulted a female in the past are bad men. These actions, while despicable, have been acceptable in our society. Many males grew up hearing from men in their families, high school teammates, frat brothers and movies messages that were just plain wrong. When hormones set in, they acted in a manner they didn’t know (consciously-I believe part of them probably knew) was wrong. Countless women were victims of these unintended crimes. Women who felt unsafe, had nightmares for years and spent who knows how many hours in therapy trying to heal.
I believe one way we can move forward is to make it safe for these men to express regret. Instead of being defensive, these males should be encouraged to stand up and say, “I made a mistake and I am sorry.” Let’s hear those voices loud and clear. I believe an important next step in moving #BeyondMeToo will be led by the men who come forward and a society that shows forgiveness to the men who truly want to do better.
When it is safe to admit wrong and men have the courage to do so, I believe the cultural norms will begin to change. It will no longer be a sign of strength to mistreat a woman, but something to feel ashamed of. Strength will be defined by the way a man shows respect to women.
Stop Considering #MeToo or Sexual Violence to be a Partisan Issue
Everyone seems to agree that politics (both in Washington and at the state level) have become too partisan. Americans at least outwardly express that our system isn’t supposed to work this way. We know that our founding fathers didn’t intend for politics to be about to powerful political parties where people make public statements and vote as if they are robots based purely on party lines.
I originally wanted to write a post (and who knows, someday I might) titled, “Why is sexual violence a partisan issue?” I truly do not understand this. How can sexual assault be ok if you are a member of one party and not if you are a member of another? Or why is it politically suicide for some politicians to say they believe a victim?
I cried as I watched the speeches given by politicians on both sides of the aisle at John McCain’s funeral. He understood standing up for what you believe is right regardless of party. John McCain understood treating those you disagree with respectfully. There were certainly times I disagreed with his politics, but I agreed with his bipartisan approach. A part of me hoped that his death would inspire his colleagues and that the beautiful way he planned his memorial would remind our politicians to stop blindly following their party. That instead politicians would use their heads to make decisions themselves based on the issues and compromise with one another to find creative solutions to the issues facing our nation.
Why can’t Sexual Violence be one of those issues where Republicans and Democrats come together? Why can’t both parties hold people responsible for their actions? I am afraid it is nearly impossible for laws to change while our leaders are so clearly divided by party. When nobody is willing to listen to someone across the aisle or stand up to someone in their own party is wrong, it is hard to see major change. But I am an optimist. I am holding out hope that politicians (and voters) will learn to look beyond a person’s label as Democrat or Republican. Instead, we can get to a place where people work together and stand up for what is right.
Respond Kindly to Survivors Who Come Forward
In the past year, I have heard people many, many people attack victims of sexual violence. I am shocked how little respect the brave survivors who have spoken up have been given. And we wonder, why don’t women come forward? Why do survivors wait YEARS to tell a single soul they were sexually assaulted or raped? Why do people wait to come into my office for counseling until the memories, nightmares and flashbacks of their rape have left them almost unable to function? Is there a reason women don’t tell authorities and men prosecuted for these crimes?
Turn on the TV. Open a newspaper. Read the comments on the internet. If women were scared before, many are even more afraid to come forward now. Their worst fears have played out on our screens for the past year. The comments made by politicians, talk show hosts and even their own family members watching the news have confirmed their worst fears: Sexual violence is either the their fault or nobody will believe it actually happened.
Please take just a moment and search twitter for #WhyIDidntReport. The stories you read are powerful. A consistent theme is that women have heard people blame or criticize other victims.
Women are asking themselves, “If the President of the United States and the Senate didn’t believe a college professor’s story, why would someone believe me?” Victims listening to their parents talk about the news think, “If my own parents called the news story a case of he said she said and thought the man should be let off the hook, why would they ever believe me since I don’t have any proof either?” Women are thinking, “I keep hearing about how the victim was drinking. I was stupid. I was drinking too. It was my fault.”
This must stop. Blaming the victim, questioning the victim or discounting the importance of traumatic events in the eyes of survivors must stop. Your mother, daughters, wife, sisters and friends are watching the news and even more importantly they’re watching your reaction. Sure, they cover it up well. Female survivors nod their head and agree with whatever you say. But make no mistake, the victims in your care deeply about how you are responding to the stories other survivors are telling.
The truth is that most women never report their sexual assault to authorities. Reports of sexual assault or rape are almost always true. Only 2-10% of sexual assault reports are false. And if you look deeper at how a “false sexual assault report” is defined, it looks like the true number is much closer to the 2% side of things.
Please, if you get nothing else from this post, please understand that it is important to assume someone who is brave enough to come forward is telling the truth. Whether you’re talking to your own family member or watching the news, speak kindly of the survivors explaining what happened to them. Speak loudly of their bravery, so those in your life will know that you are “safe” to tell their own story to.
Teach Consent and Respect Starting With Children
I am the proud mother of both a son and a daughter. I realize that the responsibility to change our culture starts with me as a parent. It then extends to family friends, my children’s school, the church and even the story books they read. How do we teach consent? I’m still figuring this out myself, because like I said, times are changing. I’ll share a few examples of how we are addressing this with my own young children. That said, I fully admit that I don’t have all the answers. I just want to spark a conversation, so we as a society can figure this out together.
First of all, I don’t require my children to give hugs or kisses to anyone (even close family members) if they don’t want to. Yesterday my daughter refused to give her grandma or aunt a hug or kiss. I think it probably broke their heart. Naturally, they wanted her to show affection. I wanted her to show affection as well. Family is important to us and hugs and kisses are a way she could demonstrate the importance of that relationship.
Nobody made my daughter give out her hugs and kisses. I held her close as she snuggled into my shoulder. As her mom, I gave her a kiss on the head. I assured her that I was nearby and let her warm up to the idea. Sure enough, she eventually chose to give a quick kiss to her grandma. My children sometimes choose not to give hugs and kisses, and I respect their wish. Why? Because even now at 1 and 5 my kids are learning that they are in charge of their own body.
My son LOVES to give hugs. As with many 5 year olds, he doesn’t fully understand boundaries. When he gives a hug to anyone (even us) without asking we stop him and gently remind him to ask. In our house, it’s normal for us to ask one another, “May I give you a hug?” We’ve also practiced at home purposefully saying, “No thank you, I am busy right now” and modeling respecting that. I believe that teaching him (and eventually my daughter as she gets older) to ask before touching another person even at this age will help teach consent.
Our physician had to examine my son’s private area due to a medical concern not too long ago. The doctor clearly explained beforehand both what she was doing that that it was only ok for her to do this because Mommy and Daddy were in the room and because there was a concern. Afterward, we reinforced this concept in the car.
As my children get older, I am sure they will come home from time to time telling me a peer of the opposite gender has teased them. As I help them navigate those conversations, I have already decided that I will not tell them, “That’s because they like you.” Maybe the other child does have a crush on my child, but I don’t want my children to think that being mean or chasing someone is the appropriate way to express affection. Similarly, when my children are teenagers, I won’t encourage them to “play hard to get.” I don’t want to send my children the message that it’s a positive thing if someone pushes you to go further in a relationship than you’d like to. Rather, I want my children to be clear in future relationships with what they do and do not want.
Pass Laws & Write Policies to Protect Survivors
This is a big one, and I really do not have all of the answers. I was shocked to hear how little of an impact #MeToo has made so far on our laws and policies. Senator Murkowski from Alaska spoke up on the Senate floor and said that we need to do more to help victims of sexual assault after trying at least one previous time to introduce legislation to support survivors who come forward. I don’t know what laws can change, but I believe they need to. I feel sick to my stomach when I read about Betsy Devos increasing the rights of those accused of sexual assault. Please see the above reference to statistics about how few men are falsely accused. For those worried about the rights of those accused of rape or sexual assault, I’ll leave the link to the explanation of how rare false reports are again. Guys, our system is already broken.
I will say it again, I do not have all of the answers. But I want to see people in leadership positions fight for the rights of sexual violence survivors.
We Can Move #BeyondMeToo
Why am I writing my longest and probably my most controversial blog post to date? I believe that our nation can rise up to the occasion. The stories we’ve heard have been powerful. The women who have shared publicly to the media or privately to their loved ones stories of harassment, assault and rape deserve for it to have made a difference. I don’t like to rock the boat so to speak. However, right now, I can’t sit by quietly. Please, let’s be the generation that makes a difference. Each and every one of us can play a part.
Counseling Help for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Rape
If you are look for help after rape or sexual assault, the good news is that healing possible. You don’t have to be miserable or stay stuck. What happened to you doesn’t have to define you. There are several types of effective trauma treatments that research has shown can help you find significant healing in only a few months. If you are experiencing PTSD symptoms, it may help to know what you can expect from trauma treatment.
Trauma treatment may sound scary and you may wonder if you really need counseling to help you move forward. Surely you can just pretend the sexual assault never happened? Chances are, you’ve already tried shoving down the memories of the assault and ignoring anything that reminds you of the rape. Unfortunately, avoidance plays a key role in the development of PTSD. You likely need the help of counseling to truly recover after any type of sexual violence. We are here and ready to help.
If you are ready to begin the healing process and live in the Columbia, MO area, please contact Aspire Counseling today. Several of our caring therapists specialize in trauma treatment. You don’t have to stay stuck. You can move beyond the sexual assault and it doesn’t have to take forever. Please, call us today at 573-328-2288 or send us a message. We want to help you move forward. Healing starts here.
About the Author
Jessica is the founder of Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She specializes in treating people who feel stuck in the past and held back by the negative experiences they’ve endured. She specializes in treating survivors of sexual assault and rape who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and believes in the healing power of counseling. If you live in the Columbia, MO area and would like to talk to someone about how counseling might help you move beyond surviving and toward thriving, please contact Aspire Counseling by e-mail or by calling 573-328-2288. You don’t have to stay stuck. You don’t have to let what happened to you define your life. Call today and let us help you move from victim to survivor and toward a fulfilling life. Healing starts here.