IT STARTED WITH AN ARTICLE, METICULOUSLY REFERENCED, RESEARCHED, AND VERIFIED: ACCUSATIONS OF SEXUAL IMPROPREITY FROM HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER HARVEY WEINSTEIN AGAINST DOZENS, EVEN HUNDREDS OF VULNERABLE WOMEN WHO WERE BOXED INTO CORNERS AND SUBJECTED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT A PHYRRIC BEST, AND SEXUAL ASSAULT AT WORST.
We were horrified, to be sure, but for many, there was an expectation that no consequences would come of it. Every day, men boxed women into corners and involuntarily undressed them with their words or with their hands. But then the #MeToo movement was spawned, and suddenly women weren’t just talking through whisper networks of what had happened to them and how it had paralyzed and defiled them – they were speaking in one collective voice. We spoke all at once, sharing the same scenarios, same stories, of different situations and different aggressors. In the past, a woman speaking up about abuse saw her picked apart by the court of public opinion. But this groundswell was too big. Our message was clear: “There are too many of us telling the truth for you to discredit us all at once.”
For weeks l have watched many women tweet and post #MeToo, it is then that l realized many women have been victims of sexual harassment in one form or another. I decided to speak out for all this, having previously convinced myself no one would believe me, as, like most survivors of harassment and assault, I had no proof on what had happened.
And it was horrible.
When l posted #MeToo, I exposed my darkest moments to the world and begged for people to believe me. l felt more violated than before by some of the responses I believed – some of whom came from complete strangers. I was attacked, discredited, and disbelieved with comments like: “Oooh, you don’t look like you’ve been harassed’’, “Are you sure or are you just following the trend?”, and “If you’re telling the truth, what made you speak out now?”
The response terrified me. There is an ingrained injustice in the way sexual assault and harassment is managed both in the judicial system and in the court of public opinion that makes a survivor feel gaslit – like they are too stupid, too fragile, too female to know the difference between good intentions and malevolent ones.
I was scared. l ran for the door and locked it as my past experiences came back like flash floods. Right there, doubt and negativity faced me in the eye.
Why did l have to go to extremes to prove that l had been a victim?
Why did the first response not deem me fit to be harassed?
How are harassed women supposed to look?
Why would l pretend to be a victim if I wasn’t?
What is the benefit of pretending such a thing?
What is the unspoken criteria of being believable?
For years, l had not said anything and at that moment, I wished that l had kept it that way. The world had set standards as to what was truthful or not, who looks the part, and whose suffering is fit to believe. A number of questions ran through my head and, but most of all, I felt fury. This was injustice, and I was being forced to carry it.
l realized that we needed to change the system. We needed to change the ideologies of how people code sexual exploitation and degradation, for until then, survivors – usually women – would need to go to extremes to prove their cases. It seems the default reaction for people to defend the accused, rather than protect the accuser. The scrutiny directed to survivors, and the pressure to prove themselves the unattainable stereotype of a ‘perfect victim’, is, in itself, retrauamatizing. Why do victims always have to be victimized to prove their own fragility? Why are we condemned as dishonest if we refuse to be placed under a microscope for our own health?
For some reason women have to go to lengths to prove they have been victimized and this starts from medical checkups to open cases, and to the judiciary where one is expected to prove beyond reasonable doubt something that, for all intents and purposes, cannot be coded. When there is a dead body, we can prove violent intent. But when somebody’s dignity is eroded away, when their body is shared under durress or out of fear, when consent is given and then retracted but the sexual act continues, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is a difficult thing to prove. How do you prove violation when there is no dead body to trump the word of the living? How do you prove maliciousness without telepathy?
For years the system has re-victimized survivors, which is why in many countries there is a great fear of reporting such cases. I believe the #MeToo campaign should shift the status quo of sexual harassment and assault so we can recontextualize the systems that enable and protect abusers. As a human rights activist, it’s my opinion that we should advocate to change the rigid systems that discredit women and sub consciously side with the perpetrator. Women continue to silently endure abuse with the fear of being re-victimized by the system ,or are shamed in the courts of law whilst perpetrators walk out scot-free. It’s one thing to be harassed or harmed by someone else, but worse when the system that is meant to protect the vulnerable does the opposite.
Its time to harness the momentum of #MeToo to change the system and how it deals with survivors. This campaign gave me a voice, and made me realize, once the fear had abated, that I could never be silent again. Now, I want to join forces with other survivors. I want to speak out. This cannot live and die on social media: we should bring this momentum to the justice system and demand for reaffirmed laws and procedures. If we are united, we can shift the narrative from #MeToo to #NeverAgain.