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It has been a hell of a week for women and girls on the internet, and it’s only Wednesday.
Most of the chaos has been swirling around Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the women (yes, multiple) who say he sexually assaulted them. In response, viral hashtags like #WhyIDidntReport, #MeToo, and #BelieveSurvivors have given countless women, girls and all victims of sexual violence a platform with which to express solidarity with Kavanaugh’s accusers and share their own personal stories, sometimes in tragic detail.
All over the internet, women have been using these hashtags to bring some of their darkest, most traumatic experiences out into the open for the world to see. These stories may be difficult to read, but they shine a much-needed light onto one of our culture’s most controversial taboos.
Here’s how it all got started:
The first woman to come forward was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California. Ford told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh held her down, covered her mouth, and groped her during a party while they were both in high school.
From the get-go, Ford was met with skepticism, criticism, and outright insults from Kavanaugh’s supporters, many of which suggested that she was fabricating — or at least exaggerating — her claims. President Donald Trump tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Trump’s tweet was what first caused the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport to go viral over the weekend.
I was 7 the first time I was sexually assaulted. He was a relative of my mom’s second husband. I told my folks and they sent me away. #WhyIDidntReport
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) September 21, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport. The first time it happened, I was 7. I told the first adults I came upon. They said “Oh, he’s a nice old man, that’s not what he meant.” So when I was raped at 15, I only told my diary. When an adult read it, she accused me of having sex with an adult man.
— ashley judd (@AshleyJudd) September 21, 2018
So #WhyIDidntReport I was 15. Raped by a drunk football player at a high school party. I was SURE my dad would shoot him if he knew and then my mom would be alone. I stayed in my room for days and cried to my cat. Didn’t tell dad until like 20 years later after my rapist died.
— Pauley Perrette (@PauleyP) September 22, 2018
The frustration expressed online also sparked several real-life protests. On Monday, the Times Up organization encouraged supporters of Kavanaugh’s accusers to participate in a nationwide walk-out protest, and share photos using the #BelieveSurvivors hashtag.
Special thanks to local @MomsDemand members for coming by Corona for today’s walkout.
To all survivors out there – know that you are loved and accepted.
You don’t have to carry this weight on your own. pic.twitter.com/oEkYDuv2Pf
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) September 24, 2018
— Mahliah Ingersoll (@MahliahI) September 25, 2018
Only 2 kids out of 1700 at Jake Cohen’s school walked out to support Dr. Ford today. Jake is one of the co-founders of the @sashainitiative. Let the kids know that we applaud their bravery in walking out. ❤️ #BelieveSurvivors #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/APuqbUohJ1
— Holly Figueroa O’Reilly ? (@AynRandPaulRyan) September 25, 2018
Many of the posts shared to #WhyIDidntReport feature a few common themes, including the shame and fear that often haunt victims of sexual violence, along with the terrifying experience that is being too young to know what to do or where to turn when abuse takes place.
These themes reveal an important advantage that social media can provide in uniting survivors of this all-too-common atrocity.
Where there is confusion, shame and isolation in real-life, social media users offer resources, understanding, and solidarity.
Of course, this is not always the case, and there are many users on Twitter and elsewhere that are not allies to survivors, including the president, but I digress.
If an incalculable number of women can share their most private experiences and speak out against sexual violence on such a public forum, even many years after the fact, maybe young women and girls will be more likely to identify, discuss and report these crimes sooner, rather than later.
With that said, as an overprotective mom-friend, I feel an intense need to state the obvious.
Posting on social media is not–and should never be–a replacement for actually reporting an assault to a trusted authoritative figure who can help you navigate the way forward.
But these posts offer something that victims of sexual violence are rarely afforded: strength in numbers.
These posts are more than mere social media content. They’re also even more than a digital representation of the countless sexual assaults that go unreported every day in the United States.
They are a lighthouse of hope in this very dark and lonely storm, through which so many victims are still struggling to stay afloat.