April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and high schoolers have many thoughts surrounding the subject, especially now in the age of #MeToo.
Back in 2006, activist Tarana Burke first coined the phrase “Me Too” as a way to unite survivors of sexual assault, focusing especially on young women and girls of colour.
The movement was reignited in 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano put out a call for sexual assault and harassment survivors to tweet using the hashtag #metoo in the wake of accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and social media was instantly flooded with stories of abuse at the hands of (mostly) famous men in positions of power.
Now, a year and a half after the events that put Me Too back at the forefront of public attention, Carihi students have many thoughts about the positives and negatives of the movement, as well as what can be done to make it better.
Laura Clark, a Grade 12 student, says that while many women have been empowered by the community that has developed online, some men feel like they are being attacked or left behind.
“Women feel more free to wear what they choose, without worrying about being called things like ‘slut,’” Clark says. “But men feel as though women are getting ‘special treatment’ with #MeToo.”
Fellow student (and Mirror contributor) Paige Pierce agrees that the movement has been extremely beneficial in empowering assault victims.
“The amount of survivors that shared their stories through this campaign is so incredible,” Pierce says. “It has allowed so many people – men and women alike – to allow themselves to be who they are and receive the support they need to.”
Fellow student Kailen Crosson agrees that #MeToo has brought huge positive changes.
“It has brought to light just how many women experience sexual violence and/or harassment everyday,” Crosson says. “It makes it easier to talk about harassment without feeling alienated.”
Cole Devlin, another Grade 12 student, is happy that, for the most part, abusers are being held accountable for their actions.
“It’s good that powerful people can’t exploit vulnerable people anymore,” says Devlin.
However, despite the progress that has been made since #MeToo resurfaced a year and a half ago, there are still issues that need to be dealt with, the students say.
According to Pierce, one of the major problems is victim-blaming, “especially through the media.”
When assault stories are covered by news outlets, emphasis is often put on what the victim was wearing or whether they were intoxicated, placing the responsibility of assault prevention on victims rather than on assaulters.
“This [victim blaming] is so disheartening,” says Pierce. ‘We were put on this planet to learn and grow, not tear each other down.”
There has also been a huge amount of online backlash, which has, according to Crosson, been “pretty rough.”
“It’s upsetting to see how many people are very against the #MeToo movement and think that predatory behavior is acceptable,” Crosson says. “A few people have definitely shown their true colours by being fervently against hearing the stories of survivors.”
When it comes to improving #MeToo and how sexual violence is talked about, Carihi students have a few suggestions.
Crosson says the general normalization of rape culture remains a huge issue and needs to be tackled by society as a whole.
“It’s super important to talk about things like sexual assault and attacks,” says Crosson, “but I also think smaller acts of harassment should be more widely condemned. Catcalling and groping are not normal behaviors.”
Clark feels that further education around consent is extremely important, and should be implemented into high school curriculum.
“Youth can better this area of discussion,” Clark says. “The future is in our hands.”