They may have different races, cultures, and backgrounds, but there is one characteristic they all have in common: they have been sexual harrassed or assaulted.
“I was 14 years old. It was by a police officer. I wasn’t the only one he was “touching” because he was touching my sister also. No one found out about it. However, years after my step mother found out and tried to report him, but the police system favored their own more than the crime done. To this day, the police officer cannot be found,” said “Petagaye,” a student at Mercy College who has lived with the abuse for years.
Petagaye is a 22 year-old senior at Mercy College, who stands with the #Metoo movement because she feels it is one of the few times when voices like hers has been heard.
Over the past month, the country has been exposed to the realities that women, men and children have been sexually assaulted or harassed by individuals who feel they have the power to get away with it.
“It’s the power dynamic. When someone who is perceived as having authority does something like that, the victims feel helpless. They feel that because of their authority and high status no one will believe them. It’s disgusting,” said Daniela Martinez, a junior at Mercy College.
#Metoo is an online movement that started after singer and actress, Alyssa Milano, tweeted out on Oct. 15.
“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.”
She said that her friend recommended this as a way to address and make women speak out about their experiences.
“I think it’s a great movement that is empowering people to speak up about their sexual abuse. It sheds light on these issues while creating unity within the victims,” commented Martinez.
The #metoo movement didn’t just start when Milano tweeted out but when Tarana Burke, an activist, created the movement over ten years ago, according to CNN. Burke created a nonprofit organization for victims through sexual harassment and sexual assault called Just Be Inc.
On her website, she explained in detail why she was so motivated to start this organization and movement. A little girl named Heaven tried to share her story with Burke but she didn’t even last five minutes into the conversation and she didn’t let her finish. Instead, she told her she will give her to another counselor who will “help her better.”
“I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too,” wrote Burke on her Just Be Inc website.
Burke lived with the regret of not being there for the girl and she never forgot about it. She doesn’t want another female to feel the way that Heaven felt.
There are too many women who are scared to speak out about their experiences because they are afraid of what people will say or what the person will do to them, experts say. While it is difficult, all state that sexual harassment and assault is a serious matter with nothing to be ashamed of.
“Even after my sister confessed on the matter, I denied it because I was afraid. Afraid of what my mother would say and what people would say about me,” said Petagaye.
Over the past few months, there have been a lot of women and men who found courage to talk publicly about different people who touched them inappropriately. Some took many years to open up and actually told the world.
“Sexual abuse has been going on for years now, and even though there are women speaking out about their terrible experiences, there are still women who are silent about their own experiences. When a woman decides to speak out on the matter, it means she’s no longer prideful and/or ashamed of what has happened to her. I believe the act of speaking out is more to help the individual who is doing the declaration, whether internally or externally,” said Petagaye.
It took Petagaye a long time to find freedom to openly talk about her experiences. She was silent on the matter for a long time, only a year ago she felt the need to open up and release the secret she has held for years.
The sexual assault occurred to Petagaye twice by two different men at different time periods. She was six years old when the first occurrence happened. There was another young lady who was older than she was in the room with her too. He touched the other young lady more since she was more developed than Petagaye.
“It was such an traumatizing experience,” said Petagaye.
On average, there are 321,500 victims ages 12 or older of who are sexual assaulted each year in the United States. Sexual violence cause long term effects and the individuals live with the pain forever. It can cause psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. Some symptoms can be depression, flashbacks of the event, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to RAINN.
“I decided that there was no use in keeping dead weight or baggage, because of my faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Something so horrible had no home within my mind-set anymore because better things were about to take over,” she said.
“I’ve been horrified at what’s been happening behind closed doors in Hollywood, and for how long. The #Metoo movement breaks my heart because you can see how many people have been affected by sexual harassment and sexual assault that has been going on for years,” said Hope Androsko, a junior at Mercy College.
#Metoo has been retweeted and shared Facebook millions of times, reaching over five million in the first 24 hours. The social media movement may lead to actual social change as the tolerance of those types of actions seem to no longer be tolerated professionally. Yet for the women who have lived these stories, many are happy with how public the concerns are, are left finding ways to heal.
Petagaye has looked to her faith to guide her past the fear that harmed her for years.
“I am not afraid any longer, ” she says. “…because of my new-found freedom in God.”