On Sunday evening, I used the hashtag #MeToo on Facebook and Twitter to share that I am a survivor of rape and sexual assault. Up to that point, I’d kept my history private.
Earlier that afternoon, Alyssa Milano, one of the actresses who has spoken out against Harvey Weinstein’s behavior, tweeted “Suggested by a friend: 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.”
Facebook and Twitter were flooded with hundreds of thousands of responses—retweets, shares and comments. Just as poignant were those survivors who wrote, simply, “Me too.” Two words. But seeing those two words meant a great deal to me and, I imagine, to many others who read them.
Like many widespread online movements, #MeToo is controversial. Last year, feminist writer Lindy West wrote, “I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open & show you everything & let you ogle our pain for you to believe us about predation & trauma.” Others wrote on Sunday that the #MeToo hashtag placed an additional burden on survivors, many of whom are exhausted from the daily business of living with these experiences and retraumatized by the current news cycle. Why ask survivors to recount their most difficult experiences in the hope that many men will believe sexual assault and harassment is a widespread issue? How can we believe they would care, given all available evidence?
The women who raised doubts and questions about #MeToo are right, of course. And those who used the hashtag are right too. There is no wrong way to be a survivor of sexual assault or harassment. Whether you choose to disclose now, next year or never is your choice.
As a journalist, I’ve spent years writing about sexual violence. I never planned on telling my own stories. But I feel that this is a valuable time to contribute to the national conversation—and, more crucially, now is the right time for me.
Now is the right time for me because my family knows, believes me and supports me telling my story. Now is the right time for me because I work for deeply good people who I know will support and believe me. Now is the right time for me because I work in a field where I can freelance if I lose my job because my stories turn my employer against me. Now is the right time for me because I have been to years of therapy. Now is the right time for me because I have a supportive community. Now is the right time for me because I live in a large city that affords me a certain degree of anonymity.
There is extraordinary privilege in my present circumstances. So many survivors are not believed. So many survivors are not supported. So many survivors would be punished by their friends, families, co-workers or business associates for sharing their stories publicly. In many cases, their assailants are in their circle of friends, families and work networks. In some cases, their assailants are their romantic partners. For many survivors, disclosure is a massive risk without perceivable reward.
There were many years when I did not live in a large city or have these bosses or have the therapy or work in a field where I could tell the truth about my life. My earliest traumatizing sexual assault happened when I was 17 years old — 13 years ago. All those years, silence was my survival tool. Sharing that I am a survivor of rape and sexual assault publicly would have broken me to pieces.
Telling one story to one person can be helpful in the long term, but in the short term it can wring us dry. The first time I told someone about my rape — and this was in the very best of circumstances, to someone who I knew would believe and support me, and who did — I felt hung over for days. Writing about sexual assault this weekend, I lay in bed for hours, incapacitated by the heaviness of wading through these memories.
The problem of rape and sexual assault in the United States is so broad and endemic that it will take a great deal more than any one public awareness campaign to solve. No hashtag will do it.
I am not a “better” survivor for sharing my story. I am not a “worse” one for participating in the #MeToo campaign. We are all here. We are all doing our best, whatever that looks like for us right now. That’s more than enough.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her on Twitter @velvetmelvis.