• Wed. Mar 3rd, 2021

Here’s what I’ve learnt after two years studying the #MeToo movement

ByDNP

Feb 22, 2021

The comments section in almost any piece on sexual violence will include a variation on: ‘#MeToo has gone too far’ (Picture: Jess Dixon)

Last week I sat and read, with increasing despair, long comment threads on social media following an allegation of abuse against yet another high-profile male celebrity.

The themes were all too common.

The victim should have protected herself better. She knew he was a bad boy when she got involved. Why didn’t she leave? Bringing it up now proves she’s just after his money. 

My PhD focuses on the literature of the #MeToo movement and how portrayals of sexual violence have – and haven’t – changed since October 15, 2017, when the hashtag #MeToo was posted 12million times in 24 hours.

As a result, I’ve been immersed in the movement for the last two years, watching it unfold and develop.

I have found it is nearly inevitable that the comments section in any piece on sexual violence will include a variation on: ‘#MeToo has gone too far.’ This time was no exception.

In fact, the ubiquity of comments like these only serve to show how little has changed. Survivors are still disbelieved, blamed and shamed at every turn, often under the guise of ‘personal responsibility’.

For every successful conviction like last year’s Harvey Weinstein verdict, there are countless other perpetrators who never experience any consequences for their crimes.

In 2020, the already-dismal rape conviction rate in England and Wales dropped to a new record low. Given the long lead-times on cases going to court, it is unlikely that this can be entirely explained away by the pandemic (though it may have had an impact.) Some experts believe the decline is a self-fulfilling cycle: fewer cases are successfully prosecuted, meaning police are more choosy about which they submit for charging decisions, meaning fewer survivors report overall.

In the face of all this, many survivors would justifiably feel that, in fact, #MeToo has not gone far enough.

Survivors frequently find themselves in a double bind. People do not want to believe them unless there is a police report, arrest or conviction. But the process of obtaining those things can be incredibly costly, both monetarily and emotionally. From the difficulties involved in accessing trauma-informed mental health support to lost work opportunities, pursuing a sexual assault allegation comes at a steep hidden price.

The criminal justice process can also be retraumatising for survivors, whether as a result of being disbelieved or being made to relive their experience over and over again. And that’s when getting justice is even possible, which by the very nature of sexual violence, it often isn’t.

‘[Instances of sexual violence] are private events, sometimes known only to the victim and perpetrator,’ as feminist trauma psychotherapist Laura S. Brown wrote in 1991. That means they’re often near impossible to prove. 

#MeToo as a movement is contradictory: it is both deeply personal and deeply communal (Picture: Jess Dixon)

In her phenomenal 2019 memoir Know My Name, Chanel Miller (previously known as Emily Doe, the woman that Brock Turner sexually assaulted behind a dumpster at a Stanford University party) describes being retraumatised and having her life put on hold for years in an attempt to seek justice.

She also describes the pressure to be a ‘perfect victim,’ as everything from her alcohol consumption to her consensual sex life with her boyfriend was dissected in court in an attempt to explain away Turner’s actions.

My deep-dive into the movement has revealed that this high-profile case is far from an anomaly in that regard. It was reported last year that police in England and Wales were dropping inquiries into rape allegations if victims refused to hand over their mobile phones and all the data contained within them.

Such a gross and unnecessary violation of privacy inevitably leads to huge numbers of already traumatised people being unable to find support or justice from the legal system.

It’s important to note that #MeToo is not a movement that is solely about male violence against women. Ongoing cultural stigma and shame also serve to silence the men and boys who have been abused.

Thanks to the false narrative that men always want sex or are always the aggressors, sexual violence against men and boys is widely viewed as less real and less serious – or even as the butt of a joke.

In the hit series Bridgerton, Daphne continues intercourse with her husband after he clearly says ‘no’, but the scene has been the subject of fierce debate as to whether or not it constitutes sexual assault (which I believe it absolutely does).

We also rarely talk about sexual violence against LGBT+ people, despite the fact that transgender people and bisexual women are two of the most at-risk demographics.

It is vital to break down assumptions that only straight, cisgender men can commit assault and that only cisgender women can be victims.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation has been the contradictory nature of #MeToo as a movement: it is both deeply personal and deeply communal.

Sexual violence is experienced as a personal violation, and many survivors describe it as a violation of the mind or spirit as well as the body. But the movement is also an attempt at a collective reckoning, at a coming together to force the world to recognise the true enormity and horror of this reality. 

For now, we can keep hoping and fighting for real and meaningful change that not only secures justice for survivors, but drastically reduces future instances of violence and assault. I have hope, but I also know we’re nowhere near there yet.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing harriet.marsden@metro.co.uk 

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