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#MeToo: Stories of sexual abuse on social media

Social media has been many things to many people: a tool for communication, a source of information, a platform for discussion. But most recently, it has become a stage where victims of sexual harassment share their harrowing tales of abuse. 

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are currently flooded with personal stories of women (and a couple of men) tagged with #MeToo. 

The hashtag started as a call to action by American actress Alyssa Milano. In her tweet, she asked people who had experienced sexual abuse to reply “me too.” In an accompanying screenshot, she explained: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Milano’s tweet has since garnered more than 51,000 likes, 24,000 retweets, and 66,000 replies from ordinary women and famous personalities including Rosario Dawson, Viola Davis, Gina Rodriguez, Lily Allen, and, locally, Saab Magalona, among others. 

While the “Me too” movement originally started by Tarana Bourke in 2006 to spread awareness about sexual abuse in underprivileged communities of color, the online movement has only caught on and reached a wider scale last week amid the news of multiple sexual assault allegedly committed by powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein to women he had worked with. 

Hollywood bigwigs, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lena Headey, opened up about being harassed by Weinstein. Reese Witherspoon, on the other hand, recounted her experience of being sexually abused by a director when she was just starting out in her career. 

Male celebrities have also shared their stories of sexual assault. Hamilton star Javier Muñoz wrote in reply to Milano’s viral tweet, “Me too. I don’t know if [it] means anything coming from a gay man but it’s happened. Multiple times.”

The recent scandal and Milano’s online campaign have inspired thousands of individuals, famous or not, to share their personal stories of abuse. 

The #MeToo movement has revealed what we already know or what many still refuse to admit: the magnitude of the problem encompasses status, race, and gender. 

Sexual assault can happen anywhere to anyone. The gut-wrenching accounts of those who went through the ordeal reveal that anyone from a mogul in a bathrobe to a creepy dude at work to a random stranger on the street to your very own relative can ruin your self-esteem by catcalling, touching, or, worst, raping you. 

It also reveals how victims refuse to fight back and choose to keep their traumatic experience to themselves in fear of humiliation, defamation, and losing a job. It shows that the perpetrators usually get away with their inappropriate advances and live a normal life, while their victims are forever traumatized. 

The viral tweet of American actress Alyssa Milano that started the #MeToo online movement

The avalanche of #MeToo tagged posts is a clear indication that the statistics we have on sexual abuse may be grossly inaccurate. Here in the Philippines, a 2015 survey by UN Women revealed that “3 in 5 women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime” and that half of the women to whom unwanted attentions were forced did nothing after the incident. The number could further balloon had women who did not speak up disclose their experience.

While #MeToo has sparked a conversation and provided a platform for victims (mostly women) to share their stories, several critics claim that it has removed the blame from men and instead put the weight, once again, on women who had to recount a horrifying experience. 

“Why are we still demanding that women out themselves as survivors...rather than demanding that men out themselves as abusers,” author Heather Jo Flores wrote in Independent. 

The online campaign is arguably passive, but a Los Angeles-based psychologist said that speaking up on social media can be a positive first step for victims of inappropriate behavior. “People are a little more aware of it,” said Dr. Nicole Lightman. 

Zero tolerance, concrete action, and support from authorities are needed to stop abuse from happening. But if sharing a traumatic experience will shed a light on the breadth of the problem and, at least, unburden the victim/survivor, we should rally behind such a cause. 

Silence enables abuse. And, yes, #MeToo.

Topics: #MeToo , sexual abuse , social media , Facebook , Twitter , Instagram
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