Buss: ‘MeToo’ cheapens assault

Kaitlyn Buss
The Detroit News

‘MeToo” has gone viral this week as a way to highlight sexual misconduct. The Hollywood actors who started the campaign decided they could heighten awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault by exposing how widespread those issues are.

But sexual harassment and sexual assault are very different things. Even with Harvey Weinstein’s reported abuses, most of the accounts describe uncomfortable advances that women were mostly able to reject.

Conflating harassment and assault insults those who have actually been sexually assaulted. It cheapens the trauma they’ve endured.

Some might label me a woman-hater (although plenty of men have shared their stories, too) for criticizing these efforts, or uncaring or clueless.

But I was a victim of repeated sexual assault as a 4-year-old. I’m someone who should feel empowered by the recent wave of attention. Instead, it feels empty.

Harassment involves words and innuendo. It’s uncomfortable and unfair, and can certainly affect career mobility — as Hollywood’s leading women have now decided to emphasize. But it can be rebutted. It typically doesn’t involve violence or physical force. It takes place on street corners, in offices, bars, movie studios and pretty much anywhere people interact.

Assault, on the other hand, is one of the most brutal experiences a person can endure — at any age and in any situation. It typically involves a man asserting physical control over another human being, and can lead to myriad injuries (including mental), disease, pregnancy and even death.

Sorry, but hashtags can’t make equal things that are not.

Remember the schoolyard chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?” Words simply aren’t the same as actions. They’re not treated the same — nor should they be — under the law. And their ultimate effects are vastly different.

There’s a spectrum of victimization. At one end is an unwanted advance or comment, and at the other is rape and death. The problem with #MeToo is that it’s almost encouraging people to celebrate that victimization, regardless of where on the spectrum it falls.

The end result has been a casual willingness of people to share their verbose stories of harassment. But I haven’t seen many people describe in detail their assault or rape, or how they felt during those experiences.

That’s because it’s not something that social media awareness will solve, or that groupthink will heal. If anything, this campaign will only normalize behavior to which there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

There are degrees of victimization, and equalizing them in a misguided attempt at solidarity hurts those who have already lost the most, or who stand to lose more.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center estimates 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual assault. How dare we presume an adult who had to successfully refuse unwanted and warped advances in the workplace has suffered the same as a child who has no context for sexual assault and far less power to fight against it.

These are serious, life-altering crimes we’re talking about. They’re not the same as being cat-called on the street or having to put up with a gross colleague. Just because Hollywood has now decided to focus on harassment doesn’t mean victims of serious sexual assault have to swim in its wake.

Will people be more heavily scrutinized for sexual harassment in the workplace following Weinstein’s downfall? Hopefully. But #MeToo will do little to stop the predators, pornographers, molesters, rapists and killers who traumatize adults and terrorize kids for sport.


Twitter: @KaitlynBuss