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26/01/2018 15:24 SAST | Updated 26/01/2018 15:24 SAST

We Need To Do More For Rape Survivors Beyond The #MeToo Campaign

What can be done (if anything) to change the culture of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct?

Bertrand Guay/ AFP / Getty images
#MeToo hashtag is the campaign encouraging women to denounce experiences of sexual abuse that has swept across social media.

On October 15, 2017, one of the most powerful and profound hashtags spread across social media. The two words are extremely important to me – because I was sexually assaulted. Likewise, these words resonate with many women who have been victims: from being objects of lewd remarks to surviving as victims of full-blown sexual assault. This powerful hashtag? It is #metoo.

Before the world began referring to this hashtag #metoo, there was "Me Too" – the movement founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to provide a safe space for survivors of sexual violence to heal. Many of the young women Burke initially set out to help were women of colour, or from low-income and underprivileged communities.

However, the movement has since found its way into mainstream media via Hollywood, after actress Alyssa Milano encouraged others to share #metoo during an awareness campaign. "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," she wrote.

While this movement opens the space for change to occur, not everyone supports the #metoo campaign.

Just a week ago, retired actress Brigitte Bardot slammed #metoo as "hypocritical and ridiculous". She called actresses sharing their #metoo stories "publicity-seeking".

Unfortunately Bardot is not alone in her views. Others have decried the #metoo movement, like actress Catherine Deneuve, who reportedly said: "Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression."

I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, as a relationship and violence-prevention specialist (and a survivor), O also believe that when it comes to sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault or violence, it's not a matter of if it will happen to a woman. Rather, it's a matter of when sexual violence will happen to a woman.

We must globally clarify what sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault look like.

Statistics show that "only 2-8 percent" of rape reports are false accusations. That means when a victim makes a sexual harassment, rape or sexual assault claim, they are more than likely reporting the truth, rather than telling a lie.

Through the #metoo hashtag, women have been able to come forward, share their stories, heal, and use it as a platform to share. However, now that so many people have opened up about what happened to them, many want to know: what can be done (if anything) to change the culture of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct?

#NowWhat

So that people who open up about their #metoo stories are not left wondering what to do next, we must address what each of us can do – both as individuals and collectively – to stop sexual harassment and assault from happening.

Before we can do this, and so that we do not blur the lines between "awkward flirting, inappropriate behaviour, and assault that threatens to leave men and women fearful of interacting with one another", we must globally clarify what sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault look like. Read the definitions below, and take a look at the video for more details.

Sexual harassment

Across the globe, how we define sexual harassment is not at all very clear. From the right person, a random text or a flirtatious wink can be great. But from the wrong person, an instant message or a friendly touch can be viewed as harassment.

So what's the difference between flirting and sexual harassment?

In short, sexual harassment is unwanted and persistent touch, language and behaviour. It is the complete opposite of behaving coyly or flirting with someone who romantically appreciates and reciprocates your intentions.

To go further, sexual harassment is a burden you enact on someone without any physical or verbal clue that your behaviour welcome. Harassment is not necessarily about sex; it is usually about exerting power and control over another.

In most cases, I suspect the offender knows exactly what he or she is doing at the time. "Accidental" harassment is rare, because the act itself is dependent upon the offenders presumed "right" to a person's affections, whether he or she has signified some form of interest.

Therefore it is the intent (as well as the reaction), not necessarily the behaviour itself, that is at the core of defining harassment.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the clear consent of the victim. Sexual assault includes:

  • Attempted rape;
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching;
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator's body;
  • Penetration of the victim's body, also known as rape.
The "Me Too" movement is not about revenge; it's about healing.

Rape

Rape is the legal definition that specifically indicates sexual penetration without consent. "Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape." It is important when considering these issues to be mindful of the legal definitions, as well as the vernacular usages.

To conclude: the "Me Too" movement is not about revenge; it's about healing. When Tarana Burke started this movement, her aim was not at outing the offender for doing something wrong, but more to create a safe space for survivors to heal, so that they can become empowered.

There certainly needs to be some accountability for people like Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer and others. However, what's even more important than making sure someone is getting what they deserve, is changing the system that supports, ignores or dismisses sexual violence against women.

Together, we – women and men – are stronger than we are in our silos of silence. Together we must stand united with one voice and say #NoMore to sexual violence, rape and harassment against our brothers and sisters. This is a must internationally and locally, whether celebrities or everyday people – regardless of race, gender, income and status.

#NowWhat? Speak out against violence!

Extend grace towards those men and women courageous enough to speak up. This issue is too close to home to ignore.

This post was originally published on Finding Happily and republished here with the author, Collette Gee's permission.