Maybe you've seen these words on social media recently, or perhaps you've posted those words yourself. Actress Alyssa Milano sparked a viral campaign when she urged people to respond to her Twitter post with 'me too' if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. She tweeted, "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".
I am not one of those people who need to get a better sense of the magnitude of the problem, because I am one of the one in five women who have been a victim of sexual violence.
I thought, well, not many women will say they haven't been affected in one way or another, but I really didn't expect many people to post those two words that now signify horrible acts of violence, assault or harassment. What started as a few posts turned into a feed full - from so many women I love, respect and admire. Then, I spotted one from my mum. Her too.
MP Stella Creasy tweeted 'me too' - and after being called 'crazy' for admitting it, she responded that she was not 'admitting' anything. "Saying I've been harassed like millions of women [and] girls all around the world. Shame is on the attackers, not me".
Author Nolene-Patricia Dougan, of Ballygowan, Northern Ireland, tweeted, "I know very few women that have not had some sort of predatory encounter... hopefully in years to come I'll not be able to say this... #MeToo".
I asked Nolene why she felt it was important to speak up about this now. "Sexual assault for so many years has been hidden away like a guilty secret. Women have been ashamed to speak out. Women's shame ends today. It is now time for the perpetrators of these acts to feel the shame," she said.
I was surprised by the sense of shame I felt as I went to post it myself. I knew if I posted it, I would be telling nearly everyone I know. They wouldn't know if those two words meant I was violently attacked, or if it would refer to being sexually harassed in the workplace. Perhaps that doesn't matter - abuse is abuse - but it mattered to me. The thought of it filled me with enough doubt that I didn't post those two words.
On my drive to work, I thought about the attack, 20-some years ago, that still affects me today, despite the many hours of counselling, despite reporting it to the police, going through court, and - finally - getting a conviction against the attacker, and despite all the time that has passed. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to post those two words. And that's OK. I get it if you're not ready to post 'me too'. It doesn't mean you're not supporting the cause - it's just not right for you right now. Instead, do something else: raise awareness, donate what you can (even a fiver) to a rape crisis centre, or reach out to someone else who has posted 'me too' and thank them for speaking about it, or see if they'd like to meet up.
Speaking out about sexual harassment and sexual assault takes a lot of courage, but it doesn't mean you're not courageous if you don't feel like talking about it. It can be an empowering experience, especially as we're talking about a time when women have felt they had lost all their power - and in my case, when I felt that I had lost the ability to take care of myself, keep myself safe, and to control what happened to me.
Since I work for Counselling Directory, I'm in regular contact with some fantastic mental health professionals and resources. To get a better understanding and a professional view on the 'me too' phenomenon, I spoke to psychotherapist, Cristalle Hayes. She said, "When these difficult and often traumatic experiences are not spoken about, it can lead to painful feelings of shame, isolation and distrust. If this remains unspoken about, these feelings remain unchallenged, and living with these feelings can really affect our relationship with ourselves and others. It can really affect intimacy and our sense of safety in the world".
And as for all of the other women who have gone through it as well: what's the appropriate way to respond to these women I know and love who have bravely come forward to say "me too"? Somehow responding with the 'crying' emoji doesn't seem like an appropriate reaction, but it can also feel like all we have. "It is so important to support friends and family who have shared their experiences. This can help someone feel less alone and less ashamed, it can lessen the suffering and help give a voice and sense of control. Support can be given by simply listening with compassion and asking what they feel would support them", Cristalle said.
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, at any stage of their lives. It's important to remember that no one ever deserves it or 'asks for it'. If you've been a victim of sexual abuse and would like someone to talk to, Counselling Directory can help you find a counsellor to speak to. Rape Crisis England and Wales offer rape crisis services and information and you can ring the Survivors Trust for advice, support and information on 0808 801 0818.Suggest a correction