By Aubrey Byron, News Editor
In the wake of the numerous Harvey Weinstein allegations, a movement began to increase the awareness of sexual assault. Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call for women to use a simple hashtag, #MeToo, to indicate they had been sexually assaulted or harassed.
The tweet was posted on October 15 and its caption read, “Me Too. Suggested to me by a friend, ‘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.’” Within 24 hours the tweet had been posted more than 17,000 times on Twitter alone. It quickly gained steam on Facebook and around the world. According to CBS News, the phrase was used more than 12 million times in Facebook posts, comments, and reactions in the first 24 hours.
While Weinstein’s alleged systematic assault on women inspired Milano’s call to action, men have also began using the campaign to speak out about their abuse. Actor James Van Der Beek admitted to having been harassed and assaulted by “older, powerful men.”
To a lesser extent, the hashtag #HowIWillChange has also been trending. The response is a call for men to be more accountable and to expose predatory behavior among peers.
While Milano had a huge role to play in making the hashtag go viral, the original movement was created ten years ago by a woman named Tarana Burke. Burke is the founder of a youth organization, Just Be Inc. She created the campaign as an effort to reach out to and express solidarity with sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities.
The widespread hashtag has had reiterations in other countries, including France’s #BalanceTonPorc, translating to “Expose Your Pig.” While the movement gains steam, the French Gender Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa, has proposed a bill to fine aggressors for street harassment. Her anti-harassment campaign is her signature issue, and she hopes to put forward a bill that would result in fines for as much as €5,000 for engaging in street harassment.
It is doubtful any such legislation will be put forth in the United States, in spite of the hashtag’s popularity. The visibility of the movement is happening amidst a recent rollback in Title IX protections for victims of sexual assault on college campuses. On September 22, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos overhauled the guidelines put in place by the Obama administration. The move recently prompted a lawsuit from a women’s rights group, Equal Means Equal.
University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Tom George responded to the move via a campus-wide email stating, “…So while the Department of Education develops definitive direction on compliance, our commitment remains to create a safe environment, to provide fair treatment for faculty, staff and students, and to both work on preventative measures and respond aggressively to reports of sexual assault.”