I am sure that many of you have heard of #MeToo either on social media or news these days. Essentially, #MeToo movement began with a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano in October 2017 in response to many sexual assault allegations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Within a day, #MeToo was tweeted about 500,000 times by other victims who resonated with her and wanted to express their sexual assault/harassment experience. As a male with no prior experience in this area, I have not found the movement causing a significant impact in my life. However, after struggling with my significant other regarding her past experience in sexual violence the past few weeks, my perception of #MeToo movement completely changed, and I thought it was a good topic to share after our in-class discussion on legality and social media last Wednesday. Although it is a difficult topic to share, I decided to do so as 1) it is very relevant to our in-class topic and 2) its impact on social media has been tremendous in the past few months.
Sexual assault is, by nature, an extremely difficult topic to discuss. This applies to both the victims (especially) and those who are not involved in the sexual assault case. It has often been considered as a shame to publicly share such an experience, and I cannot fathom how challenging it would be for someone to openly voice something that would make him/her incredibly vulnerable. It takes courage, and this norm of defining such experiences “shameful” still hinders many victims to share their cases in public. The victims’ personality also plays a role, but #MeToo movement has encouraged numerous sexual assault victims to publicly share their experiences on social media.
Now, a big question may arise in many bystanders/non-experiencers’ minds: Why can’t the survivors simply file a lawsuit and deal with their situations legally? Wouldn’t that solve the issue if the allegation is true?
There are two main reasons why many survivors share their sexual assault experiences on social media. One, posting on social media is one of the best ways to communicate in public for ordinary people (unless they know of a reporter), and by doing so they feel a sense of belonging. Whether people support the survivors or not, sharing such experiences that they could not tell anyone about helps them relieve the stress and anxiety that overwhelmed their lives after the experiences. Two, filing a lawsuit is extremely costly. It takes several months to process the lawsuit, and the financial burden on the plaintiff is quite significant. Also, the survivor must provide several testimonies to validate his/her case, confront the perpetrator again throughout the process, and prove every action and decision that has led up to the sexual assault. This can trigger a traumatizing experience for the survivors as they have to basically re-live the situation by constantly thinking about the experience and the details that they would never want to think about again. So for those who simply think that the survivors are better off taking a legal approach rather than voicing their experience via different outlets, I highly suggest to think again before you say/advice anything to survivors, because I am sure they probably considered that option well before you did.
Well, does this mean sharing such experiences on social media is the “right move?” As we discussed last Wednesday with Professor Chang, the cases of defamation are rising, especially in the social media realm. This is especially relevant in the cases of sexual assault allegations, where the survivors indicate particular individuals in their traumatizing experiences. Almost every defendant who is accused of sexual assault files a countersuit like this, as such allegations, whether true or not, significantly harm his/her reputation with a negative impact on his/her income stream as well. And sadly, many of the defamation cases win due to the lack of evidence provided from the plaintiff side. As someone who is currently going through this experience from the survivors’ side, I am disgusted by the fact that defamation countersuits are the common counteractions to the sexual assault allegations, as many of the accusations are probably real (unless the plaintiff is a terrible person who seeks monetary compensation from the defendant with a false accusation, which is rare). However, many of the sexual assault survivor advocates support that the rise in defamation suits should not prevent rape victims from sharing their stories or reporting them to police. What’s important is weighing the pros and cons before making a public allegation and if one has enough evidence to support the claim.
Another downside of sharing on social media is the lack of support or encouragement from others who are so-called “friends.” Although there are some who support the survivors after seeing the post, surprisingly there are a lot more people who ignore or do not bother to reach out to show a sign of concern. This was apparent in my personal experience, where I posted several paragraphs explaining my significant other’s struggle and the perpetrator continuing his life as if nothing had happened with an evidence of his voicemail to support my girlfriend. She currently lives in London (the perpetrator is in London as well), and during my study abroad time in London for a full academic year, I formed many relationships with Koreans living in London. Out of those people, only 3 messaged me and asked if my girlfriend and I are okay, when in other occasions they reached out regarding other issues without much hesitation. I first thought that they were just not aware of my situation, but apparently most of the Korean community in London know about this by now (with my significant other sharing on social media as well). This was very, very disappointing given that I considered many of the relationships I formed in London to be genuine and deep, yet maybe 2~3% of people that I knew bothered to reach out and ask if my significant other and I were doing okay. Although I am eternally grateful for the support I received from those 3 people, this experience also created a barrier deep down in my heart where I cannot rely on others for whatever situation I am going through unless it’s a “happy event.” This experience reinforced the hardships that the survivors could face in sharing their experiences on social media, and one must make a careful decision calculus before posting something on social media even if he/she has a robust pool of evidences to verify the allegation.
A lonely journey till the end
This post was rather gloomy, and it was tough for me to discuss this topic on top of adding my personal experience to it. However, I hope this post raises awareness of #MeToo movement and the struggle that many sexual assault survivors go through in considering countless risks to voice their experience to others. To many, it can be just another long post that would easily be skipped in a second, but for the survivor, it is a testimony that’s worth days, weeks, or even months of time and thought. I am not here to say whether filing a lawsuit is better than making a Facebook post. But I am here to say that it can mean the world for the survivor to know that someone resonates with his/her pain and supports him/her through the journey. At least that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my significant other, and that’s the only thing I can do to form more pleasant memories with her and help her think about better things ahead of her life.
Thank you for reading.
Jo Oh the Bro / Jobabes121