York adds voices to #MeToo

Image: Lucy Furneaux

The University of York’s female and non-binary community have added their voices to the global #MeToo initiative which has witnessed social media users coming out with their stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and sexism.

The hashtag exploded in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal with women speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment and more generally about the toxic culture dominating show business. It has quickly been taken up by women from all walks of life.

MEPs have brought the hashtag to the European Parliament, and academia has also attracted criticism, leading to one student at an Indian university to create a page to name-and-shame professors for inappropriate behaviour. The University of York has seen the bravery of hundreds of students coming forward to share their stories on social media, as well as male allies coming forward in support and using the hashtags #MeToo or #HowIWillChange.

While York is generally one of the safest places to live and study in the UK, the end of September has seen a spike in reports of sexual assaults in areas that students live. Enquiries are ongoing into two potentially linked incidents of women being attacked as they walked alone on the same night, one at Hull Road and the other at Navigation Road.

Statistics from Rape Crisis England and Wales suggest that in 90 per cent of assaults the perpetrator is someone previously known to the victim, and only 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence or harassment choose to report it to the police. #MeToo has been an opportunity for survivors of sexual assault to show without having to give detail, that they have been at the receiving end of inappropriate and damaging sexual behaviour.

Masters student and Feminist Society member Evie Dinah noted that some of the issues with the campaign have been “the pressure to ‘come out’ as a survivor and the fact that so many people have been forced to relive their trauma”. As the hashtag swept social media, it was a stressful few days for survivors of trauma who feared being triggered while scanning their newsfeeds. Another FemSoc member Kit Marshall, however, felt that “the proliferation of testimonies made it easier for me to talk about my own status as a survivor”, suggesting that the #MeToo campaign has been helpful in destigmatising the sharing of trauma.

Many friends of people who posted their stories expressed surprise at how widespread the problem was, but students have also expressed frustration that it took the use of a hashtag to call attention to issues that women and non-binary people have been complaining about for years.

Evie Dinah suggests that male allies can show solidarity by “calling out friends and taking more of a stand when it comes to people they know. It’s all well and good protecting your friends from creepy randos on a night out, but you need to do the same if it’s your best mate.”

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