Heather D. Flowe, PhD
# MeToo: Violence Against Women, Progress, and the Digital Gap
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
This week marked three years since actor Alyssa Milano raised the profile of the Me Too movement in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
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"
And with this, the #MeToo hashtag was born.
The Me Too movement was launched by Tarana Burke, an American activist from the Bronx in New York, who, in 2006, first used the phrase Me Too on MySpace. Tarana has said that Me Too decreases victim self-blame, and highlights the misuse of power, which is also a key tenet in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The anniversary of #MeToo presents a good time to reflect on what has changed since October 2017 and, crucially, what has not.
A number of people, including high profile American celebrities, began using the #MeToo hashtag to detail incidents of sexual violence, abuse and harassment by Weinstein and other powerful men, many of whom were ousted from their jobs.
Soon, it grew into an international movement. Survivors around the globe in different languages began broadly using the #MeToo hashtag to break their silence about sexual assault and abuse. They have been raising awareness about how prevalent these experiences are, and finding solidarity with other survivors/victims.
A year later, the #MeToo hashtag had been used more than 19 million times on Twitter alone according to a Pew research study. And of course, it didn’t take long for concerns to emerge over false #MeToo allegations.
Tarana Burke, an American change maker and future Nobel laureate.
How far have we come since #MeToo began?
Since 2017, there have been significant changes in policy and law around sexual harassment in the US, and internationally. To be sure, causal inference regarding the impact of the movement on policy and law is a difficult matter. However, there is evidence the movement is having positive impacts.
In line with #MeToo’s emphasis on holding perpetrators to account, the movement also seems to have increased reporting of sexual violence by 10% over the first 15 months since Milano’s tweet. The increase seems to be due to a change in social norms rather than in law or policy.
The movement also led to Times Up, which is countering power imbalances and addressing the lack of parity between women and men. Times Up calls for equal representation, and equal opportunities benefits, and pay for women. It also established a legal defense fund to assist those working in low-wage industries who have been sexually harassed but who do not have the means to fight back. There were at least 2,700 requests for assistance in the first 8 months of the fund.
#MeToo has also increased reports by male survivors of sexual violence and abuse.
As we reflect on the Me Too movement, we should take notice that many around the globe are completely left out of the conversation. The World Justice Project estimates that 5 billion people do not have access to justice. This includes access to laws that protect employment, land and housing. Millions of people do not have access to a functioning criminal justice system. This enables perpetrators of violence and abuse to act with impunity and cycles of violence to continue. There are also people living in extreme conditions of injustice, in fragile states, and whose human rights have been grossly violated, such as those in modern slavery.
Women and people living in rural areas especially are unlikely to have access to mobile phones and mobile Internet. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications, in developing countries, there are 313 million fewer women than men using mobile Internet (a gap of 23%) and 93 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone (a gap of 10%).
The intersectionality of gender, age, disability and racial segregation further compound the digital gap. If we don’t act now to make change, the world’s most vulnerable will be left further behind. As the Covid-19 pandemic has made clear, connectivity is key.
The good news is that small changes can make a big difference.
We can support women and girls who are developing technology and online content. This helps vulnerable groups to extend their reach, supporters and lead change.
We can speak out when we see online harassment of women and girls. Harassment creates a climate where women and girls censor themselves and don’t participate in the public sphere for fear of reprisal.
We can support initiatives that promote literacy and numeracy education for women and girls. These skills would allow women and girls to harness technology and drive impact.
MeToo has changed the way people talk about sexual violence. It has contributed to a shift in policy and law. But to truly become positive change FOR ALL it requires more. It requires closing the # MeToo gap.
We can do this through holistic thinking that reassesses our approach to justice for survivors AND removes obstacles to accessing support and justice.