By Julianna Driedger
In 2017, there was remarkable progress made to enhance women’s empowerment; one particular movement of which has continued to have a voice into the new year. The familiar hashtag #metoo, went viral in October across social media platforms providing a channel that would connect survivors of sexual harassment and draw attention to the magnitude of those affected. While this hashtag has been popularized recently, the #metoo movement was originally created by Tarana Burke in 2006. Burke meant to give a voice to the victims of sexual violence with her idea of “empowerment through empathy,” where sexual violence survivors could share their experiences with others who have similar stories and find they are not alone. #Metoo is meant to start conversations about sexual violence and help survivors find healing. The spread of the hashtag highlights the sheer number of people affected which in turn helps to de-stigmatize the survivors, and seeks to prevent future sexual violence.
While the movement started as a way of giving a voice to those who have experienced sexual violence, it has since expanded to the stories of those who have been affected by sexual assault or harassment. The movement gained momentum after sexual misconduct allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein when Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to encourage survivors of sexual harassment and assault to post #metoo as a status update. According to a CBS News stat, the hashtag was retweeted just under a million times in 48 hours, and on Facebook had more than 12 million posts, reactions and comments in less than 24 hours by 4.7 million users around the world (2). The article continues that in “the U.S., Facebook said 45 percent of users have had friends who posted ‘me too.’” These staggering numbers show survivors that they truly are not alone, while also revealing to the public the extent of the problem and the shocking amount of people who have experienced sexual harassment and violence.
Vancouver citizens have joined in the #metoo movement not only by participating in the social media hashtags but by holding a MeToo Rally that took place on November 4, 2017. In Vancouver, there are many survivors of various forms of sexual misconduct. The movement and rally have brought attention to the importance of the conversation around this topic, and in order to move that conversation forward, the focus must be around ending discrimination and violence against women in society. In Vancouver, the city has provided some notable ways in which to do this.
For example, a significant legislation was passed on April 16, 2017, that required all British Columbia post-secondary institutions to establish and implement a sexual misconduct policy by May 18, 2017. The University of British Columbia has responded to this policy by implementing a Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office that receives disclosures of sexual misconduct, provides information and referrals to different counselling and aid centres, helps act as a liaison with investigations of allegations, and leads an educational program to counter sexual misconduct (5). Other BC Universities have followed in implementing programs designed to prevent and protect their students and staff from sexual misconduct.
UBC has also made a point to address and educate their students on what is considered sexual misconduct, and what is considered consent. These keywords, “sexual misconduct” and “consent,” are crucial for the public to understand so that they can recognize what appropriate boundaries and behaviour looks like. By being able to recognize and respect appropriate behaviour and boundaries, it is easier for people to spot when it is being transgressed and get help.
In 2018, women’s empowerment must continue to push new boundaries. Vancouver citizens should be able to feel safe to express sexual misconduct complaints and be taken seriously without fear of retaliation. These affected citizens are vital voices to be heard as the pain and anger from their experiences will help others understand the importance of this issue. Post-secondary institutions are now required to have sexual misconduct policies, and workplaces should too. Society cannot remain indifferent to acts of sexual harassment. The government needs to step in with active ways to prevent sexual misconduct in all levels of communities, provide aid to those affected, and alleviate survivors from feeling blamed or ignored but empowered in voicing their stories so they don’t face fear of stigmatization.
If the #metoo movement continues to be empowered with honest and impassioned voices, it will push the United Nations goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women into a closer reality. The UN seeks to see accomplishments made in favour of advancing women’s rights throughout the world, which can be seen in the UN Women’s Year in Review link: http://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/timeline/yearinreview/2017/en/index.html
If you are affected by a sexual misconduct crisis or know someone who is, there are resource groups established to help like WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, Vancouver Rape Relief, and The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. who are easy to get in touch with. And remember, if you see something, say something.