Flood of #MeToo sexual assault stories shatters 'culture of silence,' creates bonds

Well-known personalities have drawn attention to the #MeToo hashtag by speaking out against sexual assault and harassment, but the hashtag has also created a platform where people can share their stories.

Warning: This story contains graphic details and language

Montreal media columnist Toula Drimonis says what's extraordinary about her story, is that it is, in fact, not extraordinary at all. "There isn't a single woman out there that this in some shape or form hasn't happened to," she said. (Jean-François Vachon/CBC)

Montreal media columnist Toula Drimonis says in her career, as an outspoken woman, sexual harassment is so frequent it's easy to be blasé about the whole thing, but she felt it was important to share her story.

She says she regularly receives sexually aggressive emails and messages, usually from men who don't agree with something she's written or said on air.

"What's extraordinary about my story is how not extraordinary it is. I mean there isn't a single woman out there that this, in some shape or form, hasn't happened to," Drimonis told CBC.

In the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, thousands of people identified themselves as survivors of sexual assault or harassment using the hashtag #MeToo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I recoiled ... I ran out of the room.- Toula Drimonis, Montreal media columnist

Like many people who shared their accounts with #MeToo, Drimonis said she has a lifetime's worth of incidents that would qualify as sexual assault or harassment, and it started when she was eight years old.

"A family friend, my dad's business partner … I was in a room alone with him. He basically unzipped his pants, grabbed my hand and put it on his penis."

"I recoiled. I obviously, I was shocked like anyone would be. I ran out of the room. and I made sure that I was never alone with him again."

Drimonis hopes sharing her story helps to embolden others.

"It shatters this kind of culture of silence and complicity where people are trying to hide these things," she said.

Toula Drimonis shared her own #MeToo testimonial on social media this week. (Toula Drimonis/Twitter)

Dawn McSweeney also added her voice to the growing number of people who've used the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.

"At first I was wondering if it was a big enough story," she said, adding that in the end she shared her account because she wanted to be counted among those who spoke up.

She said roughly three years ago a man was interviewing her for a job and asked if she planned to have children.

"He felt that it was a concern of his because women, once they have children, 'begin wanting special things.'"

McSweeney wishes she had told him his question was inappropriate, but in the moment, she laughed it off.

"I wish I hadn't, but I did. I told him I wasn't intending to have children because I already do [have children]."

After sharing her experience, McSweeney said she felt unity with others who'd spoken out.

Dawn McSweeney added her voice to the #MeToo movement on Twitter, speaking out against a man she said asked inappropriate questions during a job interview. (Dawn McSweeney/Twitter)

She hopes the hashtag activism translates to solidarity in the real world.

"I was on the Metro a couple of weeks ago and there was an older man who was staring at a girl until she obviously became uncomfortable … and I got in his eyeline and blocked him," McSweeney said.

"We can go up to other women and say 'Hey, do you feel safe right now?'"