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You’ve probably noticed that social media has been flooded with a trending hashtag: #MeToo. The #MeToo campaign caught fire online, beginning with a tweet from Alyssa Milano who wanted to bring more awareness to the reality of sexual harassment that many women face every day. And it’s certainly working.

What Does the #MeToo Hashtag Mean?

On October 15, actress Alyssa Milano posted a simple photo on Twitter:

Her post is in response to the recent events in which multiple women in the film industry have come forward with testimonies of sexual harassment and assault by film producer Harvey Weinstein. Far from being a one-person scandal, the accusations against Weinstein have uncovered a far larger topic: just how common sexual harassment against women actually is – in the film industry and otherwise.

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Many men and women public figures have responded with solidarity for the women who chose to speak out about the incidents, including many since Sunday who have used the #MeToo hashtag on their own social media platforms, including actress America Ferrera, Lady Gaga, and Gabrielle Union. And they’re in good company! Within just 24 hours, the hashtag has been tweeted over half a million times.

How Common is Sexual Harassment?

The men and women spreading their own #MeToo stories on social media is only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual harassment is without a doubt both incredibly common and commonly hidden. Sexual harassment can present itself in a variety of ways, and there can be many reasons a victim chooses not to share their experience right away, or even ever. Many incidences of sexual harassment are never actually reported, however, psychologists and experts have estimated that in the United States, 40-60% of women have experienced sexual harassment- including in their places of work. (1)

What Can You Do About Sexual Harassment?

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While the #MeToo hashtag has certainly increased awareness about the true scope of sexual harassment, it’s also raised some questions about what men and women can really do to help make it less common. In accordance with Stop Violence Against Women‘s advocacy tools, getting to the root of the problem means addressing multiple levels (2):

  1. To increase the understanding of human rights to include abuses suffered predominantly by women;
  2. To expand the scope of State responsibility for protection of women’s human rights in both the public and private sphere; and
  3. To improve the effectiveness of the human rights system at the national and international level to both enforce women’s human rights and also to hold abusers accountable.

In other words, the first step is to raise awareness of the complex problem of sexual harassment (which #MeToo helps to do). Understanding assault and harassment is the responsibility of everybody. That means teaching your sons and daughters about respecting boundaries and about consent. It means respecting and educating your partners. It means correcting a friend or co-worker if you catch them engaging in inappropriate behavior like catcalling or leering. It means believing your friends when they tell you about an incident of sexual assault. The more we can bring to light, the better we can fight discrimination.

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The next steps are about making it easier for victims to safely report incidents of sexual harassment or assault (and making it harder for sexual harassment to fly under the radar). This step is a longer process in the making, as the women involved in Harvey Weinstein’s accusations can attest. It’s common for perpetrators of sexual harassment to be in positions of power and influence, whether they’re a film producer, a manager at your work, or a popular person in your social circle. This is why solidarity is important. If you notice something amiss in your own workplace or anywhere else, report it.

You can report incidences of sexual harassment that happen at work to your Human Resources department. If they take place someplace else, you can report them to the police. Try your best to document what happened in writing (Where were you? What time was it? What happened? Was anyone else present?).

You can also ask your school or company to provide training on sexual harassment prevention, as well as challenging your government representatives to prioritize strengthening laws about sexual assault and sexual harassment.

A Message to Everyone Who Has A “Me Too” Story

It might have happened today or many years ago.

You might have been alone or surrounded by your friends.

You might be questioning whether it even counts as a “me too” story.

You might have told the world or kept it to yourself.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, we believe you.

We believe you no matter what you were wearing.

We believe you no matter what time it was.

We believe you no matter who they were, or what their title was.

And we stand beside you.

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