#MeToo: Social media hashtags and their impact

Photo by: Megan Holzwarth

During the last weeks of October, the Me Too campaign trended as social media users added the #MeToo hashtag to their posts to show solidarity and empathy for those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.

The campaign surfaced when The New York Times published an article on Oct. 5 that recounted stories of American film producer Harvey Weinstein and years of sexual misconduct. Since then, 76 women have come forward, accusing Weinstein of various forms of sexual assault. These women, mostly actresses, include Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The #MeToo hashtag has allowed these celebrities and other women to speak up about what has happened to them. The hashtag has also been used to recount sexual assault experiences other than those related to Weinstein.

Screen capture: Alyssa Milano’s Twitter

The Me Too movement didn’t start with the Weinstein case. Activist Tarana Burke began the movement over 10 years ago. Burke started this movement to help women from low income communities who have been sexually assaulted or harassed.

“Burke founded Just Be Inc., ‘a youth organization focused on the health, well being and wholeness of young women of color,’ in 2006 and launched the ‘Me Too’ campaign,” according to a USA Today article. “Burke’s goal was to let women who have suffered sexual abuse, assault or exploitation know that they are not alone and to build an extended network of women who could empathize with survivors.”

Women are not only using the hashtag, but so are men. This is a way for men to stand up for women, with some sharing their own stories as victims of sexual assault. Some male celebrities who have used the hashtag include actors Jensen Ackles and Jim Beaver.

Screen capture: Jensen Ackles’ Twitter

Other than the #MeToo hashtag, the #IBelieveYou hashtag has also surfaced. This hashtag has allowed people to help stand up for survivors through a show of support and validation.

The #IBelieveYou campaign began two years ago by the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, which aims to provide a voice for victims of sexual abuse.

“[The campaign] has now taken hold in campuses and communities across the province, reaching nearly 7 million people online,” according to the AASAS website. “Even better, we’re changing attitudes and behavior.”

The #NOMORE hashtag has also trended as of late. This campaign also focuses on voicing instances of sexual assault while aiming to end domestic violence.

“A project of NEO Philanthropy, NO MORE is dedicated to getting the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse out of the shadows and encouraging everyone — women and men, youth and adults, from all walks of life — to be part of the solution, ” according to the NO MORE website.

NO MORE was launched in 2013 and has since worked with advocacy groups, governmental agencies, universities and other corporations to put an end to domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Me Too campaign, as well as other movements against sexual assault, are for women to know they are not alone. Through these movements, women can let their voices be heard; they don’t have to be silent.

Policy changes for Title IX on college campuses?

Election year means new changes from the new person in office, and new policies replacing the old ones.

One thing that this election year has decided to change is former President Barack Obama’s Title IX guidance for colleges.

Title IX makes sure educational institutions do not discriminate against genders. Members of any gender may not be excluded from participation or be denied benefits in educational programs.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans on changing Obama’s Title IX and replacing it with a new policy she is working on. The new guidance is shorter and quick to the point compared to the old policy. It is in the form of a question-and-answer document and allows schools to decide how to handle cases of sexual misconduct on their campus.

“The tone of the new guidance is much more permissive than that of the Obama-era directives,” said Peter F. Lake, who leads the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

Trump’s administration also rescinded documents from Obama’s Title IX guidance, including a 2011 Dear Colleague letter and a 2014 question-and-answer document.

Many colleges have announced that they will not be changing their current sexual misconduct policies. Colleges take sexual assault seriously and are not planning on changing their policies until more details are talked about.

In a background call with reporters, a senior department official said the government had left open the option of what schools do in this interim period but had no expectation about whether colleges would adopt a higher standard.

Crystal C. Coombes, senior deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of South Florida, spoke with the Chronicle of Higher Education and said her institution will stick with the preponderance standard for now.

“We believe it works well for us,” said Coombes.

DeVos did give credit to the Obama administration by bringing this issue to light and creating a policy to help, but she thinks the policy should be updated and changed.

“The system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” said DeVos. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

DeVos believes that changing the policy would be good and help all of those who are involved in sexual violence cases, including the people  accused of sexual violence and the victims.

“All students deserve protection. All students,” DeVos said in a news conference in July. “There has been a lack of clarity in this area. I heard from both groups in ensuring that the process is fair to both parties, and they’ve acknowledged that it isn’t today.”

Most people are not behind DeVos policy plan change and some fear that this will not help the victims at all, but only those accused of sexual violence. They think things will go back to how they use to be and victims won’t have their voices heard.

Title IX may have new policy changes. Some people may think the change is a good idea, while others may argue that there shouldn’t be any change. The government is taking careful consideration of both groups when creating the new policy.

Sexual Assault Silence

The University of South Florida launched the annual “It’s On Us” campaign this month, which calls for students to stand up against sexual violence on college campuses through events like taking a pledge and the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”

The campaign comes hard on the heels of a recent sexual assault that occurred on USF’s campus. The university received national attention when a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman at a party.

Although one of the tools of the national “It’s On Us” campaign is to talk to your friends honestly and openly about sexual assault, many students at the university were unwilling to speak about sexual assaults on college campuses.

“It happened within Greek, yet it also could happen anywhere, for any other person who is not involved in an organization. But I think they should be talking about it,” said USF and Greek alumna Savannah Skuthan. “If it’s ‘on you,’ why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, approximately 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males will be the victim of sexual assault during their undergraduate career.

“I think people get worried about whether [reporting sexual assault] is going to be anonymous, whether they feel like they’re betraying someone,” said USF student Liz Stafford.

Conversations around sexual assault share this sentiment, as shown by a RAINN study in which 10 percent of college-aged females and 14 percent of college-aged males did not want to report a sexual assault fearing the alleged perpetrator would get in trouble.