Women are using different social media platforms to show how widespread and commonplace sexual assault and harassment are by posting with the hashtag #MeToo.
Tweets and posts began appearing Sunday when actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed to tweet the words #MeToo. Since Milano’s message, the hashtag has been tweeted nearly half a million times, according to a Twitter spokesperson.
While many women have only used the two words in their post, some individuals have written long messages about their personal experiences with sexual assault and harassment. One of these women lives in Oxford.
Lauren Hughes, admissions counselor and recent graduate, tweeted #MeToo followed by her own experiences of sexual assault and harassment.
“At 13, before I had even had my first kiss, a boy I liked held my hand while watching a play at a theatre festival, then let go and attempted to stick his hand down my pants,” Hughes tweeted. “I was terrified of getting in trouble for making any noise during the play, so I squeezed his arm until he got the picture (I thought) and stopped- then grabbed my hand and tried to put it down his pants.”
Hughes also tweeted about a time when she was 14 years old and was groped in the stairwell of a church and a more recent event when she was harassed in a Walmart after leaving the gym last year.
Hughes said the #MeToo movement is important because it lets other victims of sexual assault and harassment know that they are not alone.
“I don’t think I have a single female friend who hasn’t been harassed or assaulted, unfortunately,” Hughes said. “If me putting my stories out there encourages someone else to come forward, then it’s done its job.”
Ole Miss alumna and Oxford resident Lafreeta Gaines said when she first saw the hashtag, it was “extremely triggering.”
“I felt that even acknowledging my experience with the hashtag would put me in a vulnerable place,” Gaines said. “I wasn’t ready for the possible questions from people that knew me personally and to open up about it completely.”
After she decided to post the hashtag, Gaines said she initially felt uncomfortable and “very exposed.” Then, she said she noticed other people she knew personally had been assaulted, too.
“Although I wish so many people hadn’t gone through that, I felt more at ease seeing that I wasn’t alone,” Gaines said.
Assistant professor at the UM School of Law Antonia Eliason said she thinks the Twitter hashtag #MeToo is a powerful way of bringing attention to the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault.
Eliason said, however, there are limits to its power.
“The danger is that you end up with repeated campaigns like this and women putting themselves and their experiences out there, without any substantive change to the culture that gives rise to such pervasive harassment and assault,” Eliason said.
Eliason said while she believes posting #MeToo brings those who have experienced harassment and assault closer together, it is important to note that it doesn’t diminish the suffering and experiences of women who feel uncomfortable in sharing under the hashtag.
Eliason said it’s important to reflect on the fact that women are the ones speaking up. She said that men using a hashtag “#IDid” would be a far more powerful message of culpability and might do more to actively change the dialogue.
“It’s not enough for women to participate — given the number of us who have experienced some form of harassment or assault, clearly many men are complicit in perpetuating such actions. They also need to take responsibility,” Eliason said.
Hughes said she feels sexual assault and harassment is a problem that has long been overlooked and pushed aside as normal behavior for boys.
“What’s really cool is that I’ve seen a few guys come forward and apologize saying that they have no idea if they have ever said or did anything but that they’re going to be more conscious of it now,” Hughes said.
Gaines said that victims of sexual assault and harassment should never have to feel alone or ashamed.
“Sadly enough, it’s easy to go over the events in your head and try to rationalize with what has happened,” she said. “That’s not your burden. That burden and the blame belong with the abuser.”