TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault
There have been a lot of discussions online recently about sexual assault and sexual harassment, from high profile cases in the media to within my own friend group. As a survivor of sexual assault and someone who has encountered harassment many times, I have found this discussion really difficult, as it’s brought back a lot of memories – especially around not being believed and the way I was treated when I spoke up about my own experiences.
Last night I saw many of my friends sharing this on Facebook and on Twitter: “If all the people who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” You’ve probably seen it in your own social media feeds, because the magnitude of this is enormous. It’s not something that only happens to the occasional woman who is attacked by a stranger as she walks to her car – you’re more likely to be assaulted by someone you know. In New Zealand, one in three girls is subjected to an unwanted sexual experience by the time they’re 16 years old. One in five women and one in twenty men experience sexual interference or assault at some time in their life. I’m sure those are conservative numbers, and there are many more that go unreported.
Finding the courage to speak up about sexual harassment and assault is bloody hard, and for some of us (like me) it can take years before you can talk to someone about it. I know that some of you might have experienced this and don’t feel comfortable saying #MeToo because you don’t want to talk about what happened (or for any other reason) and that’s fine. You do not have to out yourself as a survivor if you don’t want to. This discussion can be incredibly triggering, regardless of whether you have talked about it countless times or never. I don’t want to talk about my experience because to me, talking about it (and being asked questions about it) makes me relive what happened. I’ve spent literally years going to therapy to help me process things, to realise that it wasn’t my fault and to help me heal, but that doesn’t mean that I want to talk about it publicly.
I was really proud to be part of the #MyBodyMyTerms campaign a couple of years ago, that started conversations about sexuality, revenge porn, victim-blaming and rape culture. Now I’m standing up and saying “me too”, not just because I want to highlight how horribly commonplace sexual harassment and assault are, but also because I want you to know that if you have experienced this, you are not alone.
Despite standing up and saying #MeToo, I don’t think the onus should be on survivors to either out themselves with movements like this or push for change. Where are the people standing up and holding themselves accountable for the times that they’ve mistreated women? How come we as a society so easily forgive celebrities who mistreat women? Where are the people calling out the misogynistic behaviour that has become so prevalent in our society? Why do so many men think that it’s okay to harass women on the internet? Why does it still seem to be acceptable to pass things off as “locker room behaviour”? Boys will be boys and all that shit? Why are we not believed when we say it’s happened to us? Why are we told that we should be flattered that anyone even pays attention to us in the first place? How come people aren’t saying to their friends “what you did isn’t okay” or “making rape jokes isn’t funny”? Why aren’t there more discussions around consent, and what it means?
I don’t really know how to wrap up this post. I’m angry that so many of us are standing here saying #MeToo (and have been for years), but things don’t change. Many of us are slut shamed, victim blamed and not believed when reporting our assaults. People still defend abusers and rapists, saying “but he’s such a nice guy”. Harsher sentences aren’t handed down to the perpetrators of these assaults.
Thank you to everyone who has stood up and said #MeToo. I believe you and I stand with you.
Where can I go if I need help or support?
Talking about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape can be extremely triggering for some people. If you or a friend need help, support or just someone to talk to, please reach out.
HELP Auckland 24/7 Helpline: (09) 623 1700
Victim Support NZ: 0800 842 846
Youthline: 0800 376 633