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Not just “me too,” but “we need”

Against the backdrop of the recent national discussion surrounding sexual harassment post-Weinstein, “Me Too” has emerged as a powerful statement highlighting the societal pervasiveness of a seldom discussed crime: sexual violence. Actress Alyssa Milano instigated the recent social media thread a few days ago to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” and it has since turned viral, dominating nearly every realm of social media. From tweets by celebrities such as Lady Gaga to Facebook posts by personal acquaintances, the campaign has clearly done its job. With millions of people posting “Me Too” on their social media accounts, it is impossible for anyone to dismiss pervasive sexual harassment and assault as relics of a bygone era. Sexual violence remains firmly entrenched within our present culture, which still clearly struggles immensely with gendered imbalances of power.

Despite the enormous success of the online campaign, criticisms have nonetheless arisen. Much like in other conversations around campaigns that highlight various social issues, some have spoken out about the elements of the hashtag that lend themselves to exclusion. Beyond just the realm of white Hollywood celebrities, sexual assault remains a pervasive issue everywhere, especially among people of color and the LGBTQ community. The original “Me Too” campaign was actually started by a black activist nearly ten years ago to both bring support and attention to victims of sexual violence—something that is often forgotten within the current “Me Too” campaign instigated by predominantly white celebrities. Consequently, considering how the campaign whitewashes certain aspects of sexual violence, as well how it may implicitly shoulder out trans-survivors or those who identify as gender non-conforming, remain important critiques to consider in examining the apparent success of “Me Too.” 

The “Me Too” campaign has also been heavily criticized for shifting to the victims the onus of reporting sexual violence. Survivors should not feel obligated to make public statements about their trauma and the injustice they have faced in order to bring publicity to the issue; for some, the prospect of sharing their stories in such a public setting may actually be more traumatic than therapeutical. Moreover, more than just treating such such horrific stories with superficial likes and comments, we as friends and community members should do more in response to the millions of voices of the “Me Too” campaign. There is a pressing need for a cultural and social shift around how we view women, transgender folk, femme folk and non-binary individuals who are often the victims of such appalling sexual violence in our current society.

Although “Me Too” has succeeded in underlining the prevalence of the issue, more needs to be done than simply recognizing that such problems of sexual harassment and assault exist at large. As with most ephemeral social media campaigns, it is likely that “Me Too” will die down and be replaced with another short, but impactful social message. In the aftermath of “Me Too,” we need to actually respond to the stories that so many victims were courageous enough to share online, and actually make structural reforms as a society, both on an individual and collective basis, in order to combat this pressing social epidemic affecting millions.

Duke’s own experience with student sexual misconduct cases has shown that the process of reforming the current social culture will not be easy; there will be intense, probing debates and lapses in trying to reform the culture around sexual violence. However, when 40 percent of Duke undergraduate women report, “Me Too,” we as a community cannot let such misdemeanors go on unabated. “Me Too” represents a powerful first step in exposing the prevalence of sexual violence in our current society but more needs to be done than simply acknowledging the issue through surface-level likes and retweets. 

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