In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's public shunning (and even shaming), a powerful movement has taken hold on social media. Many women are updating their status or posting with the hashtag "metoo" to indicate that they have been a victim of some form of sexual violence. Some women simply post #metoo, some women describe their experiences, some women are not sharing, and some women may not even know that they have had a #metoo experience. I want to take some time to explain the different forms of sexual violence so that both victims and perpetrators and those who know victims or perpetrators can better recognize this social evil. With increased awareness we can begin to eliminate the problem.
Sexual violence can take many forms, some seemingly mild, and some horrific. Sexual violence can happen to women and men, the very young and the elderly, and to people of different races, classes, and sexual orientations. Sexual violence is any kind of unwanted sexual contact or experiences, including words and actions. These behaviors are enacted without the other person's express consent. To understand the definition of sexual violence further, it's important to have a firm understanding of consent. Consent is when someone gives you permission and agrees to do something. Consent can be withdrawn at any time for any reason. Check out this clever tea analogy to better understand consent.
Here's a list of more specific kinds of sexual violence that would qualify as a #metoo experience:
Rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault
Child sexual abuse or incest
Sexual assault by one's spouse or partner
Unwanted sexual touching
Sexual harassment or making sexual comments
Using power and influence to coerce sexual acts
Sexual exploitation, including by a helping professional
Exposing genitals or naked body to others without consent
Masturbating in front of others without consent or in public
Watching someone engage in sexual acts without their consent
Using technology to engage in harrassment or non-consensual experiences
Being exposed to pornography without consent
These experiences are not flirting and should not be brushed aside as flattering.
We can prevent sexual violence by increasing respectful relationships in our culture and believing others when the disclose experiences of sexual violence. If you have been a victim of sexual violence, it is not your fault. We cannot blame victims for these experiences.
Surviving sexual violence can have different effects on different people, depending on the person and the severity of the trauma. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other forms of trauma, it is important to seek professional help. Contact a mental health professional or call 1-800-656-4673.