Why I refuse to be silent: “Me Too”


Cecilia G. Hernandez

Did you know that 82 percent of child sexual abuse survivors are female? Or that 55 percent of sexual violence happens at or near the home? Check out the Me Too campaign website at metoo.support for more statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and information on the movement.

Cecilia Hernandez, Staff writers

I logged onto my social media profiles on Oct. 15 and the words “me too” flooded my feeds. Moved by the allegations of decades of abuse perpetrated by powerhouse producer Harvey Weinstein, survivors of sexual assault and harassment shared their experiences online with the hashtag “Me Too.”

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr became venues of protest, demonstration, and support. The sheer volume and inescapability of “me too” proved a powerful exhibition of the extent to which our culture is rape culture.

Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” unknowingly putting a national spotlight on Tarana Burke’s “the Me Too campaign.”

Ten years ago, youth worker Tarana Burke, a survivor of sexual assaults, was inspired to create the Me Too campaign after she felt she mishandled a young girl’s confession of sexual abuse. Burke was unable to reach out and tell the girl, “Me too.”

According to the campaign’s website, metoo.support, “While the work we do is still largely focused on Black and Brown women and girls, it also included those who identify as women and those who don’t conform to any gender.”

Burke’s admission that she initially struggled with the ability to reach out to other survivors struck a chord with me.

I don’t generally volunteer information about my own experiences with sexual assault, abuse, and rape. My practice has been to hint at my status of survivor enough that whomever I’m speaking with feels comfortable in continuing to discuss their own stories with me. I have become an expert at talking about my trauma.

This is because, as a survivor, availability of deniability is important. Talking is a risk, whether you’ve known the person you’re talking to for hours or decades.

After living as a survivor for over twenty-six years, the only thing I am certain of is that there is absolutely no way to predict how someone will react to the topic.

I’ve been hugged, disbelieved and threatened; offered drugs and alcohol offered oral sex, and offered violence. I’ve even been hit on. Once the subject of sexual assault is raised, all bets are off.

The conversation becomes a free-for-all.

However, this Sunday was different. Survivors shared their stories explicitly. In others, I recognized the way they hinted at the deep trauma that lay just under the words they wrote. Friends and loved ones shook me with their brave honesty.

I witnessed some pushback. People in comments and replies asked why they didn’t name names or press charges or otherwise behave the way these people thought survivors of assault should behave. They asked what good this actually accomplished and claimed that this was all well and good, but nothing would actually change.

Chicago Tribune writer Heather Wilhelm said that receiving catcalls “is life” and correlated receiving catcalls with “men [getting] yelled at and hav[ing] to dodge clearly disturbed people on the streets, too” in her article “Where #MeToo goes off the rails.”  

While it’s nice that Wilhelm “cannot honestly say #MeToo,” she downplays the effect catcalling has on the receiver by saying it’s a part of life. She normalizes it, making it ok to harass another person.

She confesses that she has received catcalls in the past and clearly doesn’t consider it sexual harassment, but rather just a part of life.

Catcalling makes victims feel like they are in danger. Catcalling is a form of sexual harassment since it’s unwelcome, unwanted and objectifies the victim.It’s not okay and it shouldn’t be accepted as another part of life, even if you don’t mind it.

Wilhelm also compares men getting yelled at randomly to people being objectified through catcalls. She compares two scenarios that have nothing to do with each other. A person getting yelled at for being in an area is completely different to receiving catcalls. Catcalls are a calculated move to demonstrate domination over another human being. They are a way to tell others that their bodies are open for public and sexual comment. They aim to tactically place others in a state of fear.  

Catcalls are not, and should not be, just another part of life.

Wilhelm seemed to be responding to Angelina Chapin’s article in the Huffington Post, explicitly quoting Chapin when she wrote, “If every woman you know has been harassed or assaulted, then every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe.”

I agree with Wilhelm when she says this statement is “nonsense…untrue” and “unjust,” but not for the same reasons as Wilhelm. While it seems that Wilhelm thinks it’s untrue because she believes in “gender equity” and not all men are “bad,”  I agree that this statement is untrue because perpetrators can be anyone, regardless of their gender.

Women are not the sole victims, as men and gender-nonconforming people are also victims of sexual assault and harassment. This leads me back to the original purpose of #MeToo, which was to open the dialogue for survivors to voice their trauma and to raise awareness of how our society tolerates living in a thriving rape culture.

Chapin’s claim that all the #MeToo’s won’t make “a difference until men ― all men ― acknowledge how they perpetuate misogyny and commit to making a change” is not true. Change is a possibility once we open up a dialogue.

And for me, something absolutely changed.

I could not sit quietly and not let other survivors know that I was there for them, that I was a safe person to talk with.

I needed to speak.

I needed to demonstrate to other survivors, who are in darker places, that there’s no shame in surviving, no matter what others might push you to do. I needed to let them know that there is no wrong way to survive. There is only survival.

Not long after midnight on Monday, Oct. 16, I typed two, tiny words into a Facebook post.

I trembled so badly that it took multiple attempts to type five letters. Adrenaline coursed through me, leaving a bitter, metallic taste in the back of my throat.

But after the shaking subsided, I composed a second post. And then a third; a fourth.

I found, once I let my words out, I could not stop talking about it. I could not stop saying, in a million different ways, me too.

I guess I still haven’t stopped saying it.

Me, Too.