Since survivors of sexual assault and/or harassment are often silenced by people in positions of power, social media movements like #MeToo and #BeenRapedNeverReported provide an accessible platform for voice and visibility.
There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault and harassment, including fear of reprisal, re-traumatization, or negative impacts on career and livelihood. Less than 5% of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to police, according to 2014 statistics. For particular groups of women, including racialized women, disabled women, trans women, older women, and those living on a low income, the barriers may be more complex.
Canadian actress Ellen Page drew attention to these barriers when she shared her own story of sexual harassment: “If I, a person with significant privilege, remain reluctant and at such risk simply by saying a person’s name, what are the options for those who do not have what I have?”
In the context of these systemic barriers, the #MeToo Movement has made it easier for some women to share their stories and have confidence that they will be believed. It has given survivors a collective and powerful platform that has raised awareness, demanded accountability, and challenged workplace, legal, and political systems that allow for abuses of power.
Social media movements can also trigger memories or shift someone’s understanding of what happened to them, and break down the isolation and stigma so that people are more willing to speak up and ask for help.
According to a Plan International Canada survey, about two-thirds of Canadians said that they believe #MeToo and Time’s Up are empowering women and girls to share their experiences, and prompting men to re-evaluate their behaviour toward women. Thirty one per cent agreed the movements have changed how they think about sexual assault.
While the #MeToo Movement has provided a postive platform for many, it’s import to remember survivors don’t owe anyone their stories. Disclosing isn’t the answer for every survivor — it can be retraumatizing. The path to healing is unique for each person. Some may choose not to speak out. Some may choose not to involve the justice system. Some may look for alternative ways of healing, like restorative justice options, or therapeutic support. The Canadian Women’s Foundation encourages survivors to seek the support they need to heal.
For those seeking help, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres lists rape crisis centres and transition houses by province and territory.