OPINION: What’s next for the #Metoo Movement? Hope.

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Kathryn O’Connor
CONTRIBUTOR 

The Harvey Weinstein verdict is a win for the members of the #MeToo movement. Graphic by Kathryn O’Connor.

The case that gave courage to thousands of women to speak up has come to its first conclusion and is now marked as a milestone for the #Metoo Movement.

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of criminal sexual acts in the first degree and rape in the third degree facing up to 25 years behind bars.

Karen Falconer Al-Hindi the Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNO works every day to educate students on women’s history and rights.

“His conviction and sentence punish Mr. Weinstein, the perpetrator, and sends the important messages that perpetrators can be punished and that all people – regardless of gender, sexuality, and status – should be free from the fear of sexual assault,” Al-Hindi said.

The women Weinstein victimized included Mimi Haley, a former production assistant, who he forced to engage in oral sex in his apartment back in 2006. He was also convicted of raping aspiring actress Jessica Mann at a hotel in 2013.

He was found not guilty of the charge of predatory sexual assault which would have established a pattern of his behaviors, one of which included forcing intercourse on actress Annabella Sciorra.

It was the women who began to stand up to Weinstein who launched #Metoo, trending back in 2017 when the sexual abuse allegations first came to light. But, little do people recognize this movement was founded back in 2006.

The words “Me too” first crossed social media on Myspace in 2006, posted by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke. The purpose of this phrase is to empower women through the strength of numbers and empathy.

After the spread of allegations, it was actress Alyssa Milano who took to Twitter.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” Milano said in a tweet.

For a movement founded 14 years ago, how far have we come?

To say I am shocked that these women were able to take down their powerful abuser in a world that is just starting to acknowledge the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault would be an understatement.

It’s a victory nonetheless that no one should take for granted. Instead, I believe this win instills hope to millions.

Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno fought his defense and used the strategy that women who are sexually violated are to blame.

Clearly, this is a losing strategy.

A lesson I feel should be learned from this case is that persecuting women who come forward to report an incident that has happened to them should never be blamed for what has occurred.

There are myths that women exaggerate the incident or make things up. Even if a woman is telling the truth, it’s the culture behind sexual assault that attributes to people not believing her. When women report to the police they are asked questions that put their stories on trial.

“What were you wearing?”

“Were you under the influence?”

“Are you just accusing him because you regret it?”

“I have questions for those who don’t believe survivors of sexual abuse and assault: Given all the victim-blaming and shaming that sexual assault truth-tellers face, do you really think anyone would make up such a story? Can you imagine that anyone would take on the ridicule, loss of status and re-traumatizing experience in court if they didn’t have to?” Al-Hindi said. “And, finally, do you know that the incidence of false reports of sexual crimes is no greater than that for other crimes?”

Yet, that approach is used in courtrooms every single day. Most of these cases, where people who suffered horrible wrongdoing are being told something they did or didn’t do, never make the headlines.

On the Monday and Tuesday following the delivery of the verdict on Feb. 24, the National Sexual Assault Hotline increased its volume by 23%.

Media attention from cases like Weinstein’s can encourage survivors to speak up for the first time and share their stories. Similar instances that had an effect include the case of Bill Cosby which raised volume by 6% and electing supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that created the largest spike in history, with a 338% increase in calls.

There are various options on the UNO campus for anyone affected by sexual misconduct.

“UNO has excellent counseling, mental health and trauma resources for all students, faculty and staff. Counseling and Psychology Services (CAPS) and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) are among these,” Al-Hindi said.

We should walk away from this trial with a fresh point of view. The outcome of this trial doesn’t automatically change the world for sexual assault survivors, but it is the start of what hopefully becomes a fairer system.

One day this hopefully could just be another line in another textbook that our kids will read, but for now it’s a triumph for all survivors of sexual crimes.

 

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