In recent weeks, Twitter has been abuzz with the #MeToo hashtag where survivors of sexual assault have been coming forward to share their stories in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. But what started as a way to show the scope of sexual assault and raise awareness about the issue has become controversial in its own right with some women saying that they shouldn’t feel pressured to share their stories and others explaining that the hashtag has pained them by reminding them of their assault or made them feel more isolated. The reason for this dispute is the ongoing debate on how sexual assault should be discussed.
Currently, victim blaming and minimization are pervasive when the topic of sexual assault comes up, and it isn’t just men who are guilty of it. Donna Karan blamed Weinstein’s victims, suggesting that they were “asking for it” because of what they were wearing, and Lindsay Lohan took to Instagram to defend him, asking people to leave Weinstein alone. #MeToo was created to push back against the silencing of victims and give survivors a chance to share their stories and demonstrate how common of an issue sexual assault really is.
But it’s also important that the debate on sexual assault doesn’t become about opportunistically decrying people as bad feminists because that takes the focus away from the actions of the abuser, where it should be. When we discuss sexual assault, one of the problems is that we often put too much onus on victims to speak out and raise awareness. One of the issues people have taken with the Me Too hashtag is that it pressures victims to share their experience for publicity when they may not be ready or willing to do so. As a response to this, some people have started a social media campaign that takes the initiative off of victims by asking men what actions they will take to help prevent sexual assault and dismantle rape culture.
Sexual assault is obviously a very important issue here at Cornell too because college campuses are hotbeds for sexual assaults. One in four women on college campuses are sexually assaulted, but ninety-five percent of campus assaults are believed to go unreported so, sadly, the number of assaults is likely much higher. How we talk about sexual assault is a debate with very real stakes for students here at Cornell and we need to make sure we don’t participate in a culture that encourages those who have been assaulted to stay silent.
With all of the attention and coverage sexual assault is getting as an issue, it becomes even more relevant to try and practice good allyship and make sure that our voices support victims instead of contributing to a culture that silences them. Just because an issue is getting publicity doesn’t mean it’s any closer to actually being solved, and it is both important and responsible to speak out and add your voice to the ongoing conversation.