How the #MeToo Movement Must Inspire Women to Action

And the lie we are telling our daughters that isn’t making them safer

Take an empowered stance. Reject the lie that “it’s not your fault,” not because any of it is your fault, but because that lie absolves women from taking responsibility for self-defense that will ultimately make them safer.

Just like that, an entire floodgate has opened up, and the women I know are baring their souls, sharing hidden stories of sexual abuse and assault. It’s the gut-wrenching result of the “me too” hashtag, which has gone viral this week thanks to the actress Alyssa Milano, who used her public platform to encourage women to speak out. My heart breaks every time another friend shares a story of abuse. These are women I’ve known as mothers, collegiate athletes, high level government employees, friends — it’s clear that the sexual abuse of women knows no boundaries. It sickens me to imagine these women, who I respect so highly, being depersonalized in such a brutal way.

Now I am going to share an unpopular message. It’s a theme that you might have picked up on if you read my article, “Embrace the Violence,” or if you listened to my podcast interviews with Tony Blauer and Rodney King this week. It is this: while you’re waiting on the world to change, focus on changing yourself. Before you attack me for victim blaming or shaming, let me explain.

Before you attack me for victim blaming or shaming, let me explain.

Awareness campaigns are wonderful things; it’s no doubt. If the “me too” hashtag movement can make a difference in the hearts and minds of potential assaulters, that’s phenomenal. I’m all for it. As a survivor of sexual assault, I would love it if that campaign touched the heart and mind of the sociopath who did that to me. Here’s the truth, though, and this truth is going to hurt: someone as selfish as he is probably the least likely to read about or care about the “me too” movement. If he can’t care about the feelings and humanity of the person right in front of him, why would an internet empowerment movement deter him from acting again?

There is value in awareness campaigns, but the inherent value is limited.

There is value in awareness campaigns, but the inherent value is limited: “me too” may galvanize women into a collective group fighting for a cause, but like most campaigns (political and otherwise), it’s preaching to the choir. It’s amazing that women are bonding and connecting over this, opening up and sharing stories that have hibernated long and painfully inside of them, but all the empathy in the world is not enough to prevent the next person from being abused or assaulted.

You’ll hear this a lot from me, and here it comes again: action is the only solution. We have to respond with action.

You’ll hear this a lot from me, and here it comes again: action is the only solution.

Education and rehabilitation campaigns are one thing. After my sexual assault, I volunteered with an organization at the University of Virginia. called One in Four. The objective of One in Four was to educate college aged men on the woman’s perspective in acquaintance rape. The idea was that if one in four women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, that means it’s your mother, sister, daughter, or wife. We wanted to drive home that idea to young men, particularly in the fraternity world. We talked about consent and the grey areas that lead to sexual abuse. I would sit in front of large groups of young men and tell them about what happened to me, every bit of the experience in gory detail, in hope to teach them empathy for the woman’s perspective. I haven’t seen statistics on the group’s effectiveness, but it was a well-conceived and earnest effort in making a cultural change.

Still, education can only do so much. Education relies on someone else to make the problem stop. Education says, “Men, you need to learn to stop this.” We’re only focusing on half of the equation. How can we, as women, take responsibility for ourselves and our own personal defense?

How can we, as women, take responsibility for ourselves and our own personal defense?

The night I was sexually assaulted, I was drunk. Not horribly so, but vodka shots were new to me at age 19. I didn’t handle myself well. He was midway into the act before it occurred to me what was going on, at which time I distinctly remember the thought crossing my mind: “It’s almost over. No use in fighting back. It wouldn’t help now.”

What a damn shame. If I knew then what I know now, I could’ve kicked his ass and made him cry for his mom.

If I knew then what I know now, I could’ve kicked his ass and made him cry for his mom.

In retrospect, I look back at all of the factors in play that night. Was he a dangerous sociopath? Yes, I would say so. Was he entitled to what he did? Absolutely not. Do I have any responsibility whatsoever in what happened to me?

Yes. I most certainly do.

Do I have any responsibility whatsoever in what happened to me? Yes. I most certainly do.

When I chose to get so intoxicated that I was no longer fully capable of maintaining my own personal bodily integrity, I had chosen to put myself at risk.

Now, we’ve entered the grey area of “victim blaming.” I know that my views here may be unpopular, but given that they’re self-critical and based on my own personal experienced, I feel 100% entitled to this viewpoint. I am partially at fault for what happened to me. That doesn’t make what he did any less despicable; it just acknowledges the role that my decisions played in the situation. I’m not saying that every victim ever could’ve prevented the bad things that happened to them; everything must be taken on a case-by-case basis. But this is what happened in my case. And the reality is that “it’s not your fault” is not the same thing as “you couldn’t have done anything about it.” What happened to me was NOT my fault — I didn’t rape myself – but if I had made better choices, I could’ve prevented it from happening. The two things are not mutually exclusive.

The reality is that “It’s not your fault” is not the same thing as “You couldn’t have done anything about it.” What happened to me was NOT my fault – I didn’t rape myself. – but if I had made better choices, I could’ve prevented it from happening.

Here’s the thing. In a perfect world, I should be able to leave my purse on my desk at work. I don’t, because someone might steal it. I should be able to leave my house unlocked, because in a perfect world I would trust my neighbors without question. I don’t, because I’m not willing to risk a stranger entering my home uninvited. I should be able to leave my keys in the car, but I don’t, because I don’t want someone to see the opportunity and steal my vehicle. I should be able to make a fat juicy steak and eat it on the couch without my dogs stealing it off my plate, but that’s just downright unrealistic.

Could I spearhead the effort to start an educational program to train my coworkers on trust and morality, with the end goal being that we can all leave our wallets out on our desks unattended with no fear of them being stolen? I guess, but that sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it? Isn’t it just easier to take responsibility for your own wallet at work? Lock it in a drawer or keep it in your pocket?

Yet here’s the lie that we tell ourselves and our daughters. It comes from a place of well-meaning; when you tell me that my sexual assault was “not my fault,” you’re partially right. In a perfect world, I should be able to get blackout drunk and still not have someone choose to have his way with me. That’s not how the real world works, though. The “it’s not your fault” message is a dangerous one, because it has a disempowering edge to it. It’s saying, “there’s nothing you could’ve done about it.” In many cases, that’s a lie.

The “it’s not your fault” message is a dangerous one, because it has a disempowering edge to it. It’s saying, “there’s nothing you could’ve done about it.” In many cases, that’s a lie.

There are plenty of things that you can do every day to make yourself safer. Those are good choices. Choose not to get dangerously intoxicated. Choose not to walk home from that frat party alone late at night. Choose to undertake personal defense training so that you enter a violent encounter with some knowledge of what you can do to come out of it alive and unscathed. Choose to cultivate your situational awareness to a level where you are able to anticipate, de-fuse, and deflect potentially dangerous situations.

There are plenty of things that you can do every day to make yourself safer.

Choosing to take on this mindset doesn’t let bad people act with impunity. It doesn’t make the rapist, groper, or sexual abuser any less accountable for their horrific actions. What it DOES do is empower you to step away from a victim’s mindset and into the powerful stance of someone who controls and takes responsibility for their destiny.

Choosing to take on this mindset doesn’t let bad people act with impunity. It doesn’t make the rapist, groper, or sexual abuser any less accountable for their horrific actions. What it DOES do is empower you to step away from a victim’s mindset and into the powerful stance of someone who controls and takes responsibility for their destiny.

As the “me too” posts propagate on your facebook and Instagram feeds this week, I urge you to look deeply at your own life and think about ways you can take control of your own personal defense. Reject the lie that “it’s not your fault,” not because any of it is your fault, but because that lie absolves women from taking responsibility for self-defense that will ultimately make them safer. I’m here if you want to talk about ideas, or if you need me to help you find a training program that’s a good fit for you.