When I was 19, I woke up in the middle of the night to find an acquaintance with his fingers inside me and his bare penis pressed against my backside. I was one of the “lucky” ones; I was not raped that night, but the shame and disgust, and the realization that I could have been, still lingers. In light of today’s political climate and the evolving #MeToo movement, I am reminded of just how “lucky” I am to never have experienced the horrific and violent events that so many women are faced with everyday.
But are any of us really lucky? Everyday, we as women are faced with the unique struggles that are placed upon us solely because we are women. We are harassed, catcalled, and made to feel like property by those individuals around us who believe we are worth less simply because of our gender. I remember vividly the first time I was objectified. I was walking down the street alone, heading to meet a friend at the local swimclub, when a truck of men repeatedly passed me making lewd comments. I was 12. This incident will forever be engrained in my mind. Since this time, I have been sexually harassed, groped and grabbed, pressured, and scared for my safety more times than I can count. Even just last week, I was stopped by a stranger while heading home for my lunch break who proceeded to lick his lips, make note of my body, and prevent me from passing. When did this become acceptable?
We live in a society where incidents like this are plentiful and are fueled by the lack of attention sexual harassment receives and the lack of repercussions for those who perpetrate it. We, the victims, are blamed and shamed by the criminal justice system, the media, and society and made to feel guilty. Did I drink too much? Was my dress too tight? Did I lead him on? The answer is no, always no. We are not responsible for these disgusting and degrading behaviors regardless of what society tells us.
I am so proud of the incredible women speaking up during this #MeToo movement. Now, more than ever, it is important to speak out about the truths of sexual harassment and sexual assault to shed light on the growing epidemic we are faced with. Over the past 24 hours, there have been more than 500,000 women coming forward to speak out about the harassment and assaults they have experienced, and these numbers will only continue to rise. Of this roughly half a million, one thing remains the same; every single act of sexual harassment and sexual assault is 100% preventable, preventable only by the men who continue to perpetrate these heinous acts. These men (although not only men can be perpetrators of sexual violence) continue to make the willing choice to participate in such behaviors, behaviors that are continuously reinforced by the lack of action and education in society. These individuals, and only these individuals, are to blame. Regardless of how we dress or how much we drink, we must refuse to accept sexual harassment and sexual assault as anything less than unacceptable.
The #MeToo movement, although powerful and enlightening, will not in itself, end sexual harassment and sexual assault. We must rebuild our society on respect and love and teach our children that these behaviors are not acceptable; we must continue to make our voices known and fight for gender equality. It is time to say no to silence and speak up regarding the very real issue that is plaguing our society. It is time to bring about justice for the survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault and reinforce that we will not stand for this. I choose to look past the shame and disgust to bring awareness to the harassment that continues to affect my life and the lives of so many strong and beautiful women I know. For my friends and sisters, for the young girls I babysit and for all of the women in my life, I choose to stand up and say, ME TOO AND NO MORE.