By Stephanie Salas-Vega
Speaking up about it didn’t get me anywhere. Silence helped me pretend it never happened.
For years, I was afraid of confessing about the assault on my person. I thought people would blame me or laugh at me for being such a prude. I hid the memories, the tears and the self-inflicted injuries until I felt I was finally comfortable with telling an ex-boyfriend. I was 16 when I confessed. He swore to my face that I was disgusting and no one else would ever want to be with me. I believed him.
#MeToo is a movement created after multiple sexual allegations against Harvey Weinstein spread across social media, so sexual assault victims would be encouraged to speak up. On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If all women who have been sexually assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
I refused to post #MeToo on my social media accounts, just like I refused to tell anyone about my sexual abuse when it happened. I just scrolled endlessly past posts made by other women. I’ve worn this Me Too scar since I was 14 years old, and it has never proved anything to anyone.
Social media posts weren’t going to make me feel better or delete my past.
According to The New York Times, Tarana Burke, a social activist, was the original creator of #MeToo long before the hashtag movement. In 1997, Burke sat speechless across from a sexually abused 13-year-old girl narrating her experience. “I didn’t have a response or a way to help her in that moment, and I couldn’t even say, ‘Me too,’” Burke said. Ten years later, she created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual harassment and assault. Her movement was called Me Too.
Since Milano’s tweet, there has been a rapid increase of victims – women and men – exposing Hollywood elites for sexual assaults they allegedly committed. According to Vox, many sources came forward about sexual harassment and assaults committed by Hollywood figures such as Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roman Polanski and George Takei.
But this outburst isn’t new. At least 16 women accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, according to Newsweek. Just like with Weinstein and others, coverage on Trump’s sexual harassment accusations seemed to be never-ending.
I couldn’t watch or read about it without having flashbacks.
I remember attending a family dinner at my grandma’s house while a broadcast news segment reported an elongating list of Trump’s victims. I heard, “Yeah, they were raped, but why are they admitting it now and not when it happened?” from the other end of the dinner table. They questioned whether the allegations were even true.
My blood boiled. I was silent again.
According to Live Science, Yolanda Moses, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside and a consultant and trainer for preventing
sexual harassment and assault, said just because a victim doesn’t immediately disclose their sexual assault doesn’t mean it never happened.
Society tends to blame victims, usually female victims, for what happens to them. Victims are also accused of ruining the perpetrators’ reputations, Moses said. Outdated cultural beliefs that “good women don’t get raped” can lead victims to believe they’re at fault for the sexual assaults.
When people ask the victim questions such as, “Why were you in that place at the time?” and “Why did you go to that person’s room?” it shifts the blame to the victim instead, Moses said.
The rise of #MeToo began to take a toll on me. As much as I tried to avoid the topic, I couldn’t keep hiding. When I look at the many faces of victims on the news, I don’t see anything disgusting about them. As I read the stories of how their attacks happened, I don’t see how it was their faults. It wasn’t my fault, either.
I can finally stand up and say, “Me Too.”