October 2017 kickstarted an unprecedented vocalisation of sexual violence. This was the month that The New York Times published an article which revealed decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, women have felt encouraged to come forward across the globe about their experiences of assault and sexual violence within a multitude of different environments. These women, united by suppressed emotions and trauma, created a kind of “imagined community” in which they spoke the words together: “Me too.”
Last week, over two years after this NYT article hit, the media mogul was convicted of sexual assault and rape, now facing up to 25 years in prison.
The #MeToo movement has undeniably given prominence to women’s narratives about rape culture and has brought together communities of women who have for years concealed their feelings and stories. These women have been breathing the toxic air of a name, shame and blame culture that society and the media are responsible for.
No one could have foreseen that two words would carry so much weight and have so many meanings. The movement has opened up dialogue around a topic that has for years been taboo.
What not many people know, though, is that the “Me Too” movement was founded in 2006 to help marginalised figures speak about their experiences of sexual abuse – yet the media only gave this movement status when influential figures like Weinstein were involved.
So, why did the media neglect the topic for so long? Whilst newspapers must be wary of defamation cases, it feels as though media laws are doing more to protect the accused than they are to protect victims of sexual offences. Where is the reporting on the vulnerable groups? Surely this is just as important, especially considering these groups may not have the same support networks for their #MeToo claims, they may come from low wealth communities, or may be ill informed regarding where to get help.
Last Tuesday evening, organisations Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland and Digital Voices for Communities showcased their project “Digital Me: Voices of Women Survivors” in Breeze Creatives, Newcastle. Digital Voice have been working with female survivors of sexual violence to express their stories of trauma and recovery through mediums that allow them to remain anonymous.
The videos were already a chilling reminder of rape culture and the myths that weave themselves amongst victim’s testimonies. Statistics also reflect the low levels of reporting of these crimes: the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, yet only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report to the police.
“Women’s space” was a common theme of the night: one of the survivor’s messages had suggested there be a safe room in the police station in which women could speak about their experience without being judged:
“The room should be calm and with trained staff. There should be a trained person to offer support for the victim,” she said.Sexual violence survivor
The stark room was soon bustling with women hugging one another, complimenting new hairstyles, grabbing a cup of tea for others sat on their tables. It was a room of strangers yet friends; young and old; victims and listeners – it was a community that was listening to the unspoken.
Once Digital Voice for Communities had shown the videos, the audience was invited to further explore the art collages that were a part of the project, to leave supportive post-it notes for the survivors and to wander to the tombola.
I spoke to Dawn Bowman, from Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, about what inspired the project and more about Rape Crisis’s role. She said:
“Tonight we were inspired by the women that we work with and their stories, their passion to share their stories and their willingness to be open about their experiences. It’s really important to break the silence that surrounds sexual violence. That’s one of our roles at Rape Crisis – to talk about it and raise awareness that this is an issue that impacts many women’s lives. We hope the more we talk about it, the more women will feel comfortable to come forward.Dawn Bowman, Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland
The videos created by the women are now available on Youtube and you can explore Digital Voice for Communities other projects. I asked Julie Nicholson, managing director of Digital Voice, about her role in the event. She said:
“Tonight was about a process called “Digital Me”. It’s an award-winning process which helps people have an anonymous voice about services and issues that are really important but that people might not want to go on camera and talk about them. We’ve done this process with people who have important things to say but don’t want to or can’t.”Julie Nicholson, Managing Director of Digital Voice for Communities
Whether or not Weinstein’s convictions will welcome a new era of credibility in women’s testimonies of sexual violence or not, it is encouraging to see the work that local groups, such as Rape Crisis, are doing. These efforts to raise awareness and to offer support to victims is certainly a step in the right direction for speaking out about the unspoken.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this blogpost, please seek advice:
From your Doctor or your nearest Rape Crisis centre:
Rape Crisis: https://rapecrisis.org.uk
For emergency help please ring 999.
**Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this post is not medical advice. If you are worried about any issues raised in this post, seek advice from your Doctors, or look at NHS helplines.
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