My colleague Kaitlyn Buss wrote recently (“Me Too cheapens sexual assault,” Oct. 19) about the campaign stemming from multiple reported allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Buss argues assault and harassment are different, and unequal.
I agree the two aren’t equal, but this view unintentionally cheapens the effects of harassment. Like Buss, I was the victim of repeated sexual assault. But I’m not ready to give more details.
Before this month, fewer than 10 people knew. Before this month, I felt scared and ashamed to talk about it. Before this month, I felt alone in my suffering. Now I don’t. That’s important.
It’s important that many of my female journalist friends and colleagues shared at least those two words or more. We’re trained not to overshare. But we were all admitting: Us, too. Many of the shares detailed harassment, not assault.
Like many, I’m a victim of that, too. I served tables in a pizzeria, pool hall, blues bar and Detroit’s Anchor Bar. I have had unimaginable things said to me. I’ve been groped, poked, propositioned and once got pulled onto a sitting man’s erection. I’ve been stalked, and jeered at while walking down the street. Before I turned 21, I also worked as a student librarian assistant for my local college. Shy, I worked hard and talked little — I still attracted the attention of a male supervisor. He never laid a finger on me, but did things like assign me a task in his office. Bending over. In front of his desk.
When a female supervisor reported it, the college wanted to help: By making me take a different job. To this day I don’t know where I found the guts to say: I’m the victim here, and I’m not changing my life or my job for this guy.
I got to stay, but it was awful. I quit after the semester ended. I knew moving forward, that I’d think twice about speaking up. As an adult woman and mother, in another office setting, I encountered more harassment. I confided in a few, and the most common question I got first?
“What have you done so far to stop him?”
See, the burden still falls on the victim. By dismissing harassment as something that can be “rebutted,” as Buss wrote, we’re diminishing it. Psychologists note that mental and/or emotional abuse can often be just as damaging, or worse, than physical abuse. If it happens often or enough, a person suffering such abuse may internalize the pain. Often, that inner turmoil manifests as anxiety, depression, and so on. Without help, these ailments can become just as physically dangerous to the victim, even resulting in self-harm, and more commonly, self-medicating. Victimized women often feel they don’t deserve to be loved, making them more vulnerable to seeking relationships with partners who treat them badly. The cycle continues, and the system that protects harassers will never get broken.
I didn’t find the #MeToo campaign hollow. Hashtags certainly can’t fix the world. But I felt it did what it was supposed to in this case: started a conversation to let women know they aren’t alone.
Julie Walker Altesleben
The Detroit News