Apart from two incidents from my childhood, the one that sends chills down my spine was when I was groped in broad daylight at a well-known bookshop in Lahore. I was in my early 20s and until that point, I never fully understood the feeling of being violated. The man was a car mechanic from one of the car workshops in the busy street next to the bookshop and after following my mother inside, he moved swiftly towards me and within seconds carried out his debauched ‘quick fix.’
Even though I have come to know how those dear to me have endured various and horrifying degrees of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of men (and women), it wasn’t until Tarana Burke’s #metoo campaign – that kick-started across social media over the past week – that I realised the magnitude of this secret crisis. The arc of abuse and its cousin, shame, stretches far and wide. And it lingers.
An activist from Harlem, Burke launched her #metoo movement 10 years ago to help underprivileged women of colour who were affected by sexual abuse and harassment. The campaign was initiated after Burke met a young girl during a youth camp who confided in her about the sexual abuse she was facing at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. And this month, as a result of the recent storm in Hollywood, actor Alyssa Milano tweeted; “Me too. Suggested by a friend: 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.”
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Hence, the hashtag, #metoo, spread across social media like wildfire.
While discussing the campaign with a friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) over WhatsApp, she revealed that she had never told her parents about being assaulted at the age of 12 by her brother’s friend. Although she is now happily married and has children, she refuses to tell her family. It was heartbreaking to read her words – and it made me think: when did abuse become such a taboo subject? Why were (and are) parents so frightened of acknowledging the fact that their children had to endure, and then carry, the darkness that is sexual harassment throughout their adult lives? What went wrong? What drives the need to dismiss and deflect? Is it fear?
There are many men like Harvey Weinstein – public figures, and those not in the spotlight – who have gotten away, scot-free with sexual assault and harassment for decades. Think Woody Allen, Brock Turner, the entitled jerk in college, at your workplace, in the bazaar, in the bookshop, in your own house – this accepted culture of sexual violation needs to be spoken about more often.
This is why campaigns like #metoo are important for the new generation; they are therapeutic, urge you to speak up, share your grief, and at the same time, assure you that you are not alone. That you, like countless others, are a survivor.
As Burke said during a recent interview: “For women who feel like their stories aren’t as important, or aren’t important enough to say, ‘me too,’ I’d like to talk about the spectrum of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence starts at one end with sexual harassment and runs the gamut to murder. And so there’s no story that’s unimportant, there’s no experience that shouldn’t be validated.”
For Mahnoor Shafiq, a research officer working in the education sector, the #metoo campaign serves as a healing platform for everyone affected by sexual harassment and assault.
“The campaign makes people aware that these topics are not to be swept under the rug, rather they need to be discussed in the open to help everyone affected by it.”
“The #metoo campaign is important because it’s simple,” states Nuzhat Saadia Siddiqi, a writer based in Lahore. “Just two words, no pressure about sharing details if you don’t want to. But thousands of women have indeed shared their stories, which makes this campaign that much more effective in shedding light on the magnitude of this problem.”
Sana Mela, an entrepreneurship consultant, mentions that the campaign made her realise how many people have suffered over the years. “It made me understand that they put up such a strong and brave front, all the while doing so much by giving back to society. The more campaigns like this, the more it makes one thing apparent: we need to be healed.”
The author is a journalist based in Lahore. firstname.lastname@example.org