The #MeToo Silence Breakers Are Just the Beginning

The latter part of 2017 has seen an ever-growing number of women and men, largely in the broadcast and entertainment industries, speak out about sexual harassment and assault.

These individuals, dubbed The Silence Breakers, were recently named Time Person of the Year for helping to collectively expose the pervasiveness and toxicity of sexual misconduct in supposedly professional settings.

This chorus of brave voices has been called #MeToo movement, as victims of harassment and assault have taken to social media to publicly share accounts of mistreatment they’ve endured during their careers at the hands of powerful figures.

Though #MeToo exploded into mainstream usage thanks in large part to actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged others to use the term to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” with their own stories, the movement originated in 2006.

Over a decade ago, women’s rights activist Tarana Burke began the #MeToo campaign as a means to not only expose abusers but also to help survivors of assault find solidarity — to let them know that they were far from the only ones to have experienced such trauma. In doing so, Burke hoped this would tear down the wall of silence and isolation that survivors can often find themselves behind.

Burke says she was inspired to start #MeToo after a 1997 encounter with a teenage girl who described her sexual abuse. Feeling powerless to console her, Burke began to consider what she could have said. She later realized that perhaps the greatest comfort might come from awareness that there are other survivors who have gone on to live happy, fulfilling lives.

Unfortunately, this movement took until this past fall to truly take off. Not only have survivors begun to speak out, but perpetrators have also started facing repercussions for their actions.

Why did it take this long? Simply put, fear: fear of having one’s career defined by ruining a powerful man’s career or a fear of having their own career thrown in the trash altogether.

For some, it was a fear of violence and death. Selma Blair says director James Toback sexually assaulted her in a hotel room after she refused to consent to sex. Toback then went on to threaten Blair that “he would stab her eyes out with a Bic pen and throw her in the Hudson River” if she spoke out. Blair says she was terrified for nearly two decades that her life was in danger.

It is truly tragic that widespread sexual misconduct has gone largely unpunished, but given the threats of retaliation, it is easy to understand why the silence has persisted for so long. And this is precisely what makes the Silence Breakers especially courageous: They have risked their livelihoods so that others might feel comfortable to share their own stories.

Despite the success of the #MeToo movement, it still faces significant roadblocks. The accused are increasingly turning to Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation lawsuits — or, SLAPP suits — to legally silence survivors. SLAPPs are filed against accusers for libel or slander; effectively, they aim to drain the accuser’s legal resources and prevent any meaningful litigation.

SLAPPs are becoming especially common on college campuses as students join the #MeToo movement. Until recently, it was not often that students found to have violated their school’s sexual assault policies sued their school and accusers, often seeking restitution for career damages or emotional distress.

Take Action!

Some — but not all — states have created laws to forbid SLAPP lawsuits. Urge legislators in the states still lacking anti-SLAPP laws to make a change by signing this Care2 petition.

Photo Credit: Meshae Studios/Flickr

48 comments

Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Lesa D
Lesa D8 months ago

WE are not broken but the SILENCE is...

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Danii P
Past Member 9 months ago

TYFS

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Stephanie s
Stephanie Y9 months ago

YES! Signed

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Lesa D
Lesa D9 months ago

#metoo
#27,964 petition signed...

thank you, Llowell...

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Greta H
Past Member 10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Sabrina D
Past Member 10 months ago

I admire and respect the Silence Breakers.
I really hope that teh widespread sexual misconduct will be punished at last,
I admire Asia Argento for breaking the silence in our country(Italy).

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Elaine W
Elaine W10 months ago

Change is long overdue.

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Chad A
Chad A10 months ago

Thank you!

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Patrice Z
Patrice Z10 months ago

Let's eradicate the atrocity of sexual predatory behavior! Keep speaking out and demanding accountability!

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