October 16, 2017 11:46 am

Why you’re seeing ‘me too’ all over your social media feeds

People are using the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter to illustrate the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. Actress Alyssa Milano launched the campaign Sunday, to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."

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If you’ve started to notice a majority of women, as well as men, post “me too” on their social media pages over the weekend, they want you to be aware how common sexual harassment and assault really is.

Initially started by Charmed actress Alyssa Milano on Sunday, the 44-year-old tweeted a friend had suggested writing “me too” as a status to allow people to understand the magnitude of the problem.

After the tweet, the actress also replied with, “me too” herself.

READ MORE: Harvey Weinstein facing new allegations in London, police investigating

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The movement, which has been echoed by thousands of people on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and has the support of actresses like Debra Messing and Kaya Scodelario, surfaced after 34 women have come forward with alleged accusations of harassment and assault by former movie executive producer Harvey Weinstein.

The list of accusers includes everyone from actresses Angelina Jolie to Gwyneth Paltrow to Ashley Judd, to ex-workers of the Weinstein Company to his former assistant.

Social media users relate

#MeToo hit home for many social media users, so much so that they were willing to make their stories public (sometimes for the first time).

READ MORE: Canadians Mia Kirshner, Erika Rosenbaum join legion accusing Harvey Weinstein

Others, however, were not impressed it took a hashtag for people in their lives to realize how common sexual assault and harassment really is.

Feminist activist and speaker Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki was very firm on Facebook why she won’t add “me too” to her status.

“I won’t say ‘Me, too.’ Partially because most of you know that already. But mostly because we shouldn’t have to ‘out’ ourselves as survivors,” she wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “Because it shouldn’t be on our shoulders to speak up. It should be the men who are doing the emotional labor to combat gendered violence. Because I know, deep down, it won’t do anything. Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to ‘get it’ will never get it.”

But is it effective?

According to a sexual assault survey from July, there were approximately 635,000 sexual assault cases reported by Canadians in 2014 — a number that has been unchanged since 2004.

The survey added women reported 87 per cent of the cases, however, they were still less likely to contact police. The survey notes some thought the crime was minor and not worth reporting, while others thought the assault was private or personal and could be handled without police involvement.

Data is one thing and Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, says a hashtag movement like this one, and others like #BeenRapedNeverReported in the past, are important because they expand knowledge, awareness and magnitude of the issue.

“[It raises] the issue of believability, whether by the general public or through the court system,” she tells Global News. “Women who have chosen to courageously and bravely to go to the justice system to address sexual assault and harassment, we’ve seen based on past and recent history, that hasn’t been successful.”

Senior adds social media is one way to get the message out there, and when celebrities like Milano share their stories, women find it easier to share theirs.

“There is a floodgate opening up,” she continues. “It is being used not just to raise awareness, but to also give women a voice and visibility.”

READ MORE: U of A report shows over 40 incidents of sexual violence on campus in 2015-2016

And for the criticisms of the hashtags and others like it, Senior says it’s important for people to remember survivors of sexual harassment and assault are usually silenced by people of power.

“When you bring visibility to something that’s done in secret, the hope is it will have an impact that it’s not so easy to assault a woman and think they are going to stay silent.”

What you can do?

Senior says this is the next obvious question when hashtags take off, and for sexual assault and harassment, there are many things you can do in your community, besides just re-tweeting or liking a tweet.

“Write a blog, support a local organization, start an initiative in the community and look around to see what’s happening in the community [already],” she says. “Host an event, sit around the kitchen table to talk about it and talk to young girls and boys in your life about the issue.”

“Think about the spaces we move in to make a difference.”

If you, or someone you know, has experienced sexual assault or harassment, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has several resources for survivors. If this is an emergency, call 911.

arti.patel@globalnews.ca

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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