A new campaign on social media has gone viral — since Sunday, thousands of people, including many on P.E.I., have been using the hashtag or phrase "Me Too" on sites like Facebook and Twitter to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
The posts started in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood — actress Alyssa Milano asked women to post the phrase if they've experienced sexual assault or harassment.
'Every woman that I know in my life has horrifying stories.' — Maria Campbell
"I think it's a start. I don't think a hashtag or a campaign can solve all of our issues but creating that conversation online, in person, is extremely important," said Jillian Kilfoil, the executive director of Women's Network PEI.
"We see this initiative — coupled with other initiatives — as really important to creating change in our society for anyone who experiences violence or harassment but particularly women as we know they are often the victims of this type of harassment," Kilfoil added.
Two powerful words
Michelle Jay, program coordinator with the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said even those two words posted to a Facebook profile or Twitter feed are powerful.
"Sometimes I think there's a lot of power in just saying something you may not have said to close friends or family," Jay said. "Maybe you have a hard time admitting to yourself that you've been assaulted."
Women often feel responsible for assaults and society places a lot of onus on women not to be in vulnerable situations, she pointed out. Many women she's talked to minimize their experience, especially if they weren't physically hurt, she said.
"It's a way of speaking up for yourself, even if it's in that small way," Jay said.
'Every single woman'
Maria Campbell is a Charlottetown activist and artist, and a former board member of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre who has been sexually assaulted and harassed several times, she said.
"It's not a shock to me that every single woman could post 'Me Too' and have it be very accurate to their lives," said Campbell. "Every woman that I know in my life has horrifying stories, if not just stories of everyday micro-aggression that happened on a sexual-harassment based level."
The Me Too campaign may be useful, Campbell believes, because it can be educational.
"If that turns the light on for one individual, and educates them on the realities of the situation, that's beneficial to everyone."
The down side of such a campaign is men can feel attacked, get defensive and tune out the message, Campbell said — pointing to the #NotAllMen movement.
'The hashtag really should be 'I Did ... And I'm Willing to Change.'' — Gordon McNeilly
"It is not all men and we understand that — but it is a cultural thing that includes all men," she said. It is everyone's responsibility, she said, to recognize sexual harrassment and assault are "based in misogyny, which is a cultural norm at this point, that we need to start shifting."
Campbell believes the justice system is not set up to support sexual assault victims — and Jay agrees.
"Women know ... they're going to be the ones grilled, they're going to be the ones who are disbelieved, they're going to have to defend their own behaviour — whether they were drunk, whether they were alone — whatever it was that we blame women for things that happen to them," Jay said.
Women don't report sexual assault because they're not willing to take the risk for an unsatisfactory outcome, she said, and "women are getting really sick of" being asked why.
"Let's ask the boy 'Why did you rape her?' Putting the responsibility where it belongs," Jay said.
'We are the people that have allowed this'
The group P.E.I. Man Up has a mission of denouncing violence against women, and says some men at least are listening.
"The hashtag really should be 'I Did'," said Man Up member Gordon McNeilly. "I Did, and I'm Ready to Change.' It needs to be directed at men — we are the people that have allowed this to go on for way too long and it's time we stand up and do the right thing."
"Just because you can't prove something in court, with all the intricacies of court, doesn't mean it didn't happen," McNeilly said of sexual assault.
If you have been sexually assaulted, the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Centre says you should tell a trusted friend, family member, or call them at (902) 368-8055. They also have a Facebook page.
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