October 17, 2017

Supporting Survivors: "Me Too"... or not

Dr. Tyffani Dent, licensed psychologist

In the last couple of days, there has been a "Me, too" campaign in response to the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault leveled against Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein is known as a powerhouse movie producer and many women have recently come forth stating that he used such power to engage in a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault against many women over whom he knew he held authority over their careers. Since that information has come out, there have been the typical responses that many survivors of sexual assault have come to fear and expect including those who engage in victim-blaming by stating that if women dress a certain way or look a certain way, they are "setting themselves up" to be sexually harassed. Such assertions (that in some cases have been put forth by women including Donna Karan and Mayim Bialik) are not surprising because they feed into society's belief that women are responsible for their own victimization. In response to such pro- sexual assault culture statements, a campaign was started that attempted to "put a face" to those who have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. Many have seen the "Me, too" campaign in which women were encouraged to post "Me, too" to their social media accounts acknowledging their own experiences being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed.

When I first saw this campaign, I was proud of women who had the courage to come forward and let the world know not only about their victimization, or to let the world know that there is no one "victim type", but also in their ability to take hold of their survivorship. In their powerful statements of "Me, too", I saw women who had come to a place in their survivorship where they were able to state to the world that they had been victimized and in doing so, demanded that the world did not dismiss the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Yet, I then turned to the social media pages of many of the women I know who have been victimized and saw that there were often no "Me, too" statements---and it reminded me that wanting to or being able to acknowledge one's victimization is complex. Many survivors are not supported nor do they receive "likes", "retweets", or "love" emojis when they disclose their victimization. Instead, they are met with questions about whether or not they "misunderstood" such advances, or somehow "asked" for the sexual abuse by way of their body type, "flirtatious nature", "clothing", or previous sexual contact with the perpetrator.

I wonder in the non-"Me, too" group how many were abused by those that they knew and were encouraged to keep silent because no one wanted a beloved family member/friend/coach/prominent community figure to have their lives "ruined" by discussing the sexual assault.

I question how many non-"Me too" women and girls did not dare tweet such a thing because they feared not being believed. I wonder how many of those non-"Me too" women were black women---as we know that only 1 in 16 of us ever tell about our victimization.

I believe that some of those Non-"Me, too" women and girls have decided that when and to whom they disclose their sexual assaults is their decision---and rightfully so. That they have decided that such information -sharing is the only decision they had within the sexual assault and have determined that social media is not the place where they want to share it.

I think about how some have argued that instead of "Me, too" or even focusing on the "non-Me, toos" one should demand that males and other bystanders "own this" and post about their plans to support survivors but also intervene when they see sexual abuse occurring---even if they do not have their own daughters---because empathy and compassion should not be predicated on whether or one has their own female offspring.

Yet, in all of this, I have come to the conclusion that, for those who choose to "Me, too"---I honor your courage and offer my support as you navigate your survivorship. For those who do not---I embrace you and understand you not feeling safe in or simply choosing not to share your abuse with the world---it is your right.

In the "Me toos", "not Me toos", and bystanders, we should all have the goals of preventing sexual abuse and supporting survivors---those are "two" things we should all be able to agree on.

#SupportSurvivors #BelieveSurvivors #WeAreOAESV#BlackWomensBlueprint #TrustBlackWomen #SistersOfTamarSupportCircle#MeToo

Dr. Tyffani Dent is a licensed psychologist and author. She is a national trainer on issues related to sexual violence on the continuum, intersectionality, vicarious trauma, mental health, and gender-responsive treatment. Dr. Dent has served on and continues to serve on international, national, and state boards addressing emotional wellness, social justice, and sexual violence. Follow her on social media: Facebook @DrTyffani; Instagram: @DrTyffani; Twitter: @DrTyffaniMDent