It’s been a number of months since the hashtag #metoo exploded in popularity. Now, any time that sexual assault is brought up in conversation somebody needs to bring up the metoo movement. This is at least true in the United States, which I primarily reference because it’s where I live and I see how the movement unfolds firsthand. I had a history professor this semester who would say things like, “In a post-metoo world, we need to be more careful about how we interact with difficult topics.” That drove me up a wall.
A hashtag brought awareness to an issue that already had existed for centuries. This isn’t the beginning of an era. People are slightly more aware of how pervasive the issue is. That’s it.
Furthermore, the topic of sexual assault does not hold more importance now than it has in the past. People’s lives were turned upside-down through trauma long before social media existed. Their stories were no less powerful before they became a hot talking point. Abuse is not a badge of honor; boasting your support for people who have been victimized does not give you easy brownie points. That is incredibly disrespectful. Honestly, if you only care now that it’s a popular topic you don’t actually care that much.
The same people who now discuss sexual assault to appear compassionate and keep in touch with social justice trends are usually the same ones who perpetuate a problematic myth: Now that people are experiencing consequences we are stepping into an era where this pervasive violence will not be an issue. That could not be less true.
While the number of men who have received consequences for their disgusting actions has risen slightly, there are still very many who have felt no repercussions. What has happened is a handful of celebrities have faced media backlash, and a small percentage of those have actually seen their careers affected. So many more have gone unchecked. Very powerful people in Hollywood have been accused of abuse and assault, sometimes of children. That says nothing of the athletes and politicians who have been accused or convicted of terrible crimes with no repercussions.
In the less visible sector of life, non-celebrities have felt few consequences. High schools and universities are notorious for refusing to punish sex offenders out of fear or giving their school a bad reputation or because the attacker was a talented athlete. I wanted to write about a specific case of this happening, but there are far too many to sort through and choose one even in a simple web search. Also common are people (mostly women) facing abuse and harassment at their jobs. Those that can report to an HR department often don’t for fear of missing opportunities or being ostracized by coworkers, and many people don’t have the choice at all.
Waitresses face a notorious level of sexual harassment from customers who have next to nothing to lose from their behavior. “The customer is always right” means that self-defense from verbal or even low level physical harassment is more likely to result in the staff member being punished than the offending customer. Undocumented women who are harassed or assaulted are threatened with deportation by their abusers if they try to report it. Men in prison are raped almost as frequently as women in college, and women in prison face rampant sexual violence from the guards who get to go home and sleep peacefully before returning to cause harm again the next day. It is disgusting how little the lives of these violent offenders are impacted while the lives of their victims are forever altered.
#metoo has changed very little in terms of how deeply pervasive rape culture is. However, my desire in writing this is not to make anyone feel hopeless. Even though it isn’t a lot of progress, it is still worth acknowledging and being grateful for. What I want is for people to understand that there is a long way to go before the problem is resolved, that the issue was equally prevalent and important before it became a popular talking point, and that we cannot grow complacent while men and women continue to face significant violence and their attackers usually go free.