It was a year ago today that the New York Times published its first allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a litany of sexual harassment claims made by former colleagues of the Hollywood producer, from assistants to actors.
Jodi Kantor’s article proved to be the catalyst the world needed to start talking more honestly about rape, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Within weeks, the #MeToo movement, originally set up by US activist Tarana Burke in 2009, had found a global audience, with millions of women using her hashtag to share their experiences on social media, and millions of others listening.
Hollywood’s stars led the call for a culture shift with the Time’s Up movement, and soon decades of entrenched sexism were being challenged in almost every industry, from politics and the media to retail, hospitality and the FTSE 100.
For the women at the heart of the story – the survivors, the campaigners and the counsellors who’ve helped us navigate these past 12 months – it feels as though much has changed, but at the same time, nothing has.
Just this week, President Donald Trump openly mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford for her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh, whom she claims sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old.
For Sophie Adams, a 21-year-old who was raped as a teenager, it’s been a year of hearing people vigorously defend those who have done wrong as much as it’s been about listening to survivors tell their stories
“I feel really, really angry,” she tells HuffPost UK. “It’s so poor and so sad that this is happening as we’re trying to encourage people to speak about the incidents that have happened to them – no matter how small, or big, or awful,”
Adams, who was 13 when she was raped by a boy two years her senior and has experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the eight years since the incident, says that although she supports the #MeToo movement, the volume of conversation around the topic has worsened her symptoms.
“Before, you could go around on a day-to-day basis and you could push those sorts of things out of your mind,” she explains. “But it’s such a hot topic at the moment. I get flashbacks in the form of bad dreams. I can go months without them, but I’ve found myself definitely having an increase in those flashbacks in the past year.”
At the same time, the movement has empowered Adams to open up about her experience, which she hopes will help her – as well as other survivors of sexual violence – in the longterm. As a teen, she kept her experience a secret for two months before eventually telling a teacher, who then informed her parents.
“The movement has inspired me to share a little bit more,” she says. ”You’d never want someone else to go through what you’ve been through, but it is helpful knowing that you are really not alone. At the same time, it’s horrifying [when] you realise it seems to be a majority who have been through similar situations.”
Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Paula Coles says there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in people contacting her in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, “but that’s actually because the figures of women and men seeking support for these issues has always been exceptionally large”.
“Whilst none of my clients have cited #MeToo as the impetus for approaching a therapist, many have spoken about #MeToo in the news, fundamentally feeling it’s time for change and that it’s time that perpetrators were made more accountable for their actions,” she says.
Listening to their stories is never easy, says Coles, but feeling her patients have made progress in the past year gives her the the motivation to continue working in the field.
“I pay great attention to taking care of myself,” she says. “We are certainly living in challenging times, but my work shows me every day that there’s hope for change and that the vast majority of people are motivated to give themselves and the people around them a better life.”
““You feel less like you’re shouting into a big black hole because, suddenly, so many people are talking about it.””
This year has been equally tough yet rewarding for Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, and activist Paola Diana, author of ‘Saving The World. Women: the XXI’s Century Factor For Change’. Both are grateful the #MeToo movement, plus the continued dialogue around sexual violence, has amplified their campaigning on the issue.
“You feel less like you’re shouting into a big black hole because, suddenly, so many people are talking about it,” explains Krys, who has worked at the coalition for two and a half years.
“The first year and a half of working here I would often struggle with getting people to understand how prevalent it [sexual harassment and sexual violence against women] is and the impact it can have. I’d spend quite a lot of time trying to convince people that this still happens.
“We used to have to talk about prevalence just to get the conversation listened to. But now we can spend less time talking about that, it gives us more time to talk about some of the structural causes of sexual harassment and sexual violence and find ways to tackle them.”
Diana agrees: “The #MeToo movement has created a whole new realm of awareness for women’s rights and equality which we had not previously seen. I personally feel more empowered knowing that this issue isn’t being ignored anymore.”
New research released by The Fawcett Society this week confirmed the past 12 months have seen a tangible shift in culture. Half of young people aged 18-34 say that since the #MeToo campaign began, they are now more likely to speak up against sexual harassment – and that includes 58 per cent of young men.
But more still needs to be done. The same research found older men – those most frequently in positions of power in the workplace – are lagging behind younger generations. Just 16 per cent of men aged over 55 have had a conversation with someone of the same sex about sexual harassment, compared with 54 per cent of men aged 18-34.
Adams believes there is more visible support available to women now than when she was raped eight years ago, but worries emergency services do not have access to adequate resources to support women who do come forward.
““If there’s one thing that #MeToo has demonstrated, it’s the ferocity with which powerful men will protect their power."”
Diana would also like to see a review of the UK justice system, highlighting how the persistent low conviction rates at rape trials may discourage women from coming forward. The latest figures show less than a third of young men prosecuted for rape in England and Wales last year were found guilty.
According to Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party,″#MeToo needs to become #WeToo.”
“It has been powerful to see the number of women coming forward to tell their stories. Now we need to organise at the next level, so that women can take on the vested interests of powerful men,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“That means seeking out and amplifying the voices of women who have not been heard – I’m thinking particularly of black, lesbian and working class women – in order that this be a truly representative movement, and supporting those women to stand as candidates at every political level.”
She believes feminism “has to be political now” in order to challenge the inequality that has been built into our governments, economies and cultures, and that we need a “mass movement” to achieve genuine progress.
“If there’s one thing that #MeToo has demonstrated, it’s the ferocity with which powerful men will protect their power. The backlash against women who have challenged their harassers and attackers has been enormous,” says Walker, who adds that the framing of #MeToo as “victim culture” has, ironically, elevated as victims the “privileged, indignant men who retain their jobs and status”.
“From Brett Kavanaugh whose nomination to Supreme Court is advancing regardless of Christine Blasey Ford’s compelling evidence, to Johnny Depp getting pages in GQ to protest his victimhood, to Cristiano Ronaldo using the malevolent phrase ‘fake news’ to dismiss his accuser... we are seeing Trump’s playbook and his behaviour repeated everywhere.
“Women are angry and now we have to channel that anger into overturning every unequal institution.”