Editorial: Confronting sexual assault



The phrase spread rapidly across social media in the last few days with one aim – to show the magnitude of sexual assault.

The challenge to women was simple, an explanation shared across social media posts: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘#MeToo’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Me Too became a rallying cry. Woman after woman – wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, friends – copied, posted, tweeted and shared the phrase, sometimes with heart-wrenching short stories about what had happened to them. People who had known each other for years were surprised to find out who had been assaulted.

There were millions of them around the world.

Sexual assault is a tragic commonality shared by women, regardless of their culture, country, class, race or income level. They are scientists, maids, lawyers, journalists, students, soldiers, nurses, waitresses and athletes, but they also are too easily targets for sexual assault and abuse just because they are girls and women.

The #MeToo phrase blew up on social media on Monday (Oct. 16) after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it and asked others to share. Within 24 hours, more than 12 million had pasted it as their Facebook status and millions more had shared it via Twitter.

The Me Too campaign to connect survivors of sexual assault was first launched a decade ago by Tarana Burke, an activist and former camp counselor. She said she wanted a way to bring sexual assault survivors together, a way so they would know they weren’t alone. 

But how do we prevent the Me Too campaign now from simply fading away again, another fad, a flash in the social media pan, soon forgotten?

First, we should keep talking about it with our friends, family and loved ones.

Then, keep letting sexual assault survivors – both women and men – know help is out there.

Taos is no stranger to sexual assault, of women and children, both boys and girls. Two local organizations – Community Against Violence and Nonviolence Works – have worked for years to help victims and perpetrators and address the root causes of all forms of domestic violence. We support both of these nonprofits. They are always available to help.

How should those who haven’t experienced assault – men and women – help those who have?

RAINN – the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network – provides several suggestions:

• Support survivors. Tell them you believe them, it’s not their fault and they are not alone.

• Sexual assault memories last a lifetime. Support victims as long as it takes for them to heal.

• Speak up. If you see someone being pressured or looking uncomfortable at a party, in a restaurant or anywhere, say something. If the situation seems dangerous, call police.

What else can we do?

We should encourage our daughters to value their brains, help them build their confidence and their ability to tackle any challenge and their courage to speak up. And, yes, build up their abilities to defend themselves if need be.

We should encourage our sons to treat girls with respect, as equals and not as sexual objects.

Most importantly, we should teach them that no means no.

Perhaps then, one day, no more women will have a reason to post #MeToo.