In the aftermath of the Prince Andrew-Jeffrey Epstein scandal, Pauline Bradley makes an assessment of the global impact of the #MeToo movement
#METOO – WHATS IT ALL ABOUT?
#MeToo is not just a moment, its not just a hashtag, its not just a single issue campaign aligned to the US Democratic Party, its much more than that.
Before Trump was elected, three women claimed he had sexually assaulted them. Trump’s lawyers paid them to be silent though subsequently Stormy Daniels has been vocal. A tape emerged of Trump saying he “Moved on her like a bitch” and “Grab them by the pussy”. Women and allied men were outraged and held protests in over 50 US states and all over the world. Its reported 240 protests were held.
Recently knowledge of the abuse, rape and sex trafficking of under aged girls by Jeffrey Epstein, is being brought to light. This story has potentially seismic ramifications. Already Prince Andrew has had to step down from all his public duties after a Newsnight interview about his association with Epstein. There are now calls for the UK monarchy to be abolished or scaled down at least. President Donald Trump has been accused of raping a 13 year old girl in Epstein’s house. The evidence is very plausible. Epstein died in prison after his arrest. This is reported as suicide though some (including George Galloway) speculate that he was killed by US state actors to cover up evidence.
Other cases of powerful men abusing women have come out due to their victims speaking out, e.g. Bill Cosby who was seen as a cuddly father figure on TV; behind the scenes he had drugged and assaulted 50 women including Andrea Cosland. Harvey Weinstein in the film industry was called out by women who he’d assaulted and the dominoes began to fall.
Ten years previously in 2006, Tarana Burke used “Empowerment through empathy” to give strength to sexual abuse survivors, particularly women of colour as individuals and in communities. Empowerment through empathy encourages survivors to speak out, highlights how big the issue of sexual assault is, shows survivors that they’re not alone, it started a conversation about radical community healing and creates hope and inspiration.
The accusers of Harvey Weinstein including Angelina Joli and Gwyneth Paltrow, have opened a debate and shown that the issue is unavoidable. People like Alyssa Milano (who is credited with starting #Me Too) began tweeting Burke’s work. She said “Put #Me Too on your status” the following day 30,000 people had done that. Time magazine named Milano and Burke “Silence Breakers” and “Persons of the Year 2017”.
#Me Too began to spread throughout the globe, with women citing their own stories; here are some examples: –
#Me Too Japan – A woman called Siori told in her book “Black Box” of how she was raped as an intern journalist by a high profile man. She took the case to court but it was dropped due to political interference. Other women have spoken out after being inspired by #Me Too in the USA.
#Me Too India – In 2012 Jyoti Singh Pandey was brutally gang raped on a bus and died. This led to women’s demonstrations, calls for stronger punishments for rape, for more money and awareness of women’s safety. Since 2012 the number of reported rapes has gone up by 40%.
#Me Too France – Women such as Sandra Muller talked of #Balance Ton Porc or “Snitch Out Your Pig”
#Me Too Italy – Rallied in Rome using the phrase “Quella Von Che” or “That Time When”
#Me Too Spain – “Yo Tambien” is one slogan used. Their Facebook page is “Spanish Revolution” with over 2,000,000 likes, videos of Spanish wide strikes for women and the climate.
Other countries took part including the Czech Republic where activist Andrea Molecca said, “This is brilliant” and in Sweden the King said the campaign is having an effect.
In the UK context of more awareness of the extent of child sexual abuse, high profile celebrity abusers being called out like Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and Stuart Hall; child sexual abuse scandals in churches (the film Spotlight highlighted the cover up in the US), in Rochdale and Rotherham, it seems some in society became at last ready to hear the stories of abuse survivors. There is still work to be done though things are moving in the right direction.
CNN reported that there’s been less activity in the Middle East and East Africa. This is probably due to more oppressive religious regimes there.
Before #Me Too, women were often scared to speak out in case they lost their job or faced retaliation. Abusers would keep women silent and isolated.
In 2013 the UN reported that 99% of women across 7 regions in Egypt had suffered sexual harassment.
In Ireland there is increased awareness of sexuality issues due to the marriage equality referendum and repeal of the 8th amendment referendum to remove the ban on abortion. However, some rape cases have shown how the courts have failed rape survivors both north and south.
In Belfast in 2018, 4 famous rugby players were acquitted of raping a 19 year old. They had texted each other bragging that they had “Spit roasted” her. In court the public could see her and her name was circulated in social media. After the verdict, groups like ROSA held demonstrations at the court saying #We Believe Her and #Me Too. A report from a retired judge has recommended changes in how rape is dealt with in court in north of Ireland.
In Cork a 17 year old alleged rape by a 27 year old, witnesses saw him on top of her in the mud with his hand round her throat. Her knickers were used against her in court and he was acquitted. It echoed the case of Lyndsey Armstrong in 2002 whereby the victim’s knickers were used against her in court and she later committed suicide.
Again, protests erupted with #Me Too, #I believe Her and #This is not consent. It has opened a debate about the meaning of consent and a review of court proceedings. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar spoke up against clothes being used as an excuse for rape.
#Me Too has helped to expose abusers, especially powerful men, given victims/survivors solidarity with each other, is beginning to show the extent of the problem and has lifted the lid off a century’s old oppression which a patriarchal system creates. Times are changing and there is no going back now.