STAR Reflects on #MeToo

For decades, staff and volunteers at centers like STAR have witnessed the many and varied injustices survivors of sexual abuse, harassment and assault face each day. We have intimate knowledge of the ways in which our systems and communities fail to hold perpetrators accountable and stigmatize survivors for speaking out about the violence committed against them.

In addition, many of us have also personally experienced sexual trauma, which can help us to better relate to the survivors we serve and fuel our passion for STAR’s mission; however, it also puts us at a greater risk for being triggered by others and feeling re-traumatized by this work.

The #MeToo movement is now shedding light on the issue of sexual violence and the recent outcry among the public is long overdue. Each day, our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to carryout STAR’s mission to support survivors of sexual trauma, improve systems response, and create social change to end sexual violence. Below, members of STAR reflect on the past year and share how #MeToo has affected their lives and their work with survivors.

 

Every time I log onto Facebook I am reminded of my former trauma. Although this is painful, I feel empowered and proud of everyone who shared #MeToo. I didn’t want my loved ones and family to be traumatized by a #metoo from me, so I didn’t post. I was anticipating the inevitable backlash from those who feel compelled to ridicule these survivors, and was not surprised to find a few outspoken individuals to do so. I think the movement helped to break the ice for verbal, social, and political conversion around sexual violence.  

Nicole, Volunteer

 

The avalanche of stories being publicly shared has made me feel more comforted and optimistic than ever before. People accused of committing sexual harassment and assault usually get to dominate the narrative and be believed by the public, so it’s been amazing to watch the power shift in some high profile contexts. Still, it’s caused me to reflect on how survivors continue to be silenced, blamed, and disbelieved where I live, and what needs to happen to change that.

Rebecca, Vice President

STAR staff showing off our Denim Day
support, April 2017

 

I’ve had mixed reactions to the recent #MeToo movement. On one hand, I find the movement to be inspiring because it reminds me of the importance of the work I do. It makes me feel proud to be a part of an organization that is fighting to create necessary change. It also shows me that the issue is being considered with the seriousness it deserves, and that people are listening to survivors now more than ever.

On the other hand, this movement has made it more difficult for me to “leave work at work” since sexual trauma seems to be everywhere I look. It has increasingly crept its way into my home-life whether on television, Facebook, magazines, or in conversations with those around me. For my own self-care, I’ve had to create boundaries to limit that when necessary. I’ve changed my habits by reducing time on social media to give myself a break, and have had to limit conversations about it when necessary during my off hours.

However, when I am ready to have those conversations, I feel confident because of my training and experience with STAR. I’m armed with facts and statistics, and I can answer questions from friends and family members when the issue comes up. I can also gently provide them with the correct information when I am confronted with societal myths.

More than anything, I’m thankful that this has created a cultural shift that makes it more socially acceptable to talk about sexual trauma. It’s part of the conversation now, and I think that’s important. We always knew it was happening before, but now survivors can feel more empowered to share their stories with others if they choose to, and people seem to be ready to listen. This gives me hope.  

Jordan, Baton Rouge Counselor

 

All of us have a story to tell. Each of us have been affected by sexual harassment in one form or another. I can’t count the times men have whistled, then when you don’t acknowledge them, you are a called “stuck up Bitch”…. the list goes on and on.  

Alicia, Development Director

Baton Rouge staff participated in some much-needed downtime at
Painting With a Purpose, July 2017

 

As an individual, I’ve struggled with my feelings as a result of the #MeToo movement. I believe in it wholeheartedly in the sense that it tangibly breaks the silence that surrounds sexual violence. It starts conversations. It allows us to find our allies. It shows that we are each even more than survivors; we are a united force for change. A change that is not coming some day, but today. My critique is that while it has empowered so many, it has divided others who want to remain anonymous or do not want to #MeToo into feelings of guilt or confusion. There is so much to sift through to type out such a simple phrase. With this, I feel defeated that we must bear our own souls and secrets for the chance to be believed and feel validated. I work to advocate for those who have come forward, but it’s caused me to call myself into question when I choose not to do the same, despite knowing that choosing to speak out is an immensely personal process. You are cross examined, you are labeled, you are now deemed a political controversy, but you are free.

As an advocate, I personally have chosen not to write or speak #MeToo for the public eye at this time, though sexual violence has made a large imprint on my life. All of us that choose not to share our stories have our reasons, all of which are valid, as they are OUR stories. And while it has been stated that there is no obligation to share your story, the reality is that is a loaded statement- for if not us, who?- and if not now, when? #MeToo is a community to build strength, but still it is not without sacrifice. The hardest part for many, including myself, is feeling like we owe an explanation if we write #MeToo. To explain if it was “just” sexual harassment or rape. Then to call out our accuser, answer our critics, and bear ourselves for those hiding behind a cyber curtain who seem to be able to have all the time in the world to taunt us. And if we do all this- what are the ramifications? Could we be sued, physically attacked, or bullied? If friends and family have questions, do we answer? Can we answer some, but not others? Then the questions we call ourselves into-Why do we want to answer some but not others? Is it because we are ashamed of something that is not our fault or is it because we feel it is too much for them to bear, so we must carry the load on our own? Who are we really protecting? Maybe we have placed the memories on our shelf and can’t take them down right now. Maybe we don’t have the words right now.

This is not a Pandora’s box I chose to open lightly, but the #MeToo stories have inspired me to find a way to tell my own story on my own terms.

Kaeli, Volunteer

Dominique Dunbar was honored with the
Golden Apple Award from VIPS, May 2017

 

I am happy that the shame is now on the perpetrator. I am delighted that people are taking the initiative to increase the dialogue regarding sexual violence. The empowerment and support expressed make my heart smile! However, I am negatively impacted by it. As a black woman, I feel silenced, drowned out. The grassroots vision of this movement is to empower underprivileged women to shatter their silence. Now that women of high privilege have come forward, the campaign has taken root in a gated community of which I do not live nor have access. It appears as if people of color are not entitled to that same compassion. Black voices do not count, once again.

Dominique, Baton Rouge Community Education Director

 

STAR staff at the End Violence Against Women
International Conference, April 2017

 

The #MeToo movement has given me even more opportunities to talk with my friends and peers about the problem of sexual violence. I’ve been able to discuss the impact of sexual violence and how power dynamics silence survivors. I’ve been able to help many of my peers realize the importance of believing survivors and standing up with them. Most of all, the movement has helped me to show people how prevalent sexual violence can be and help people realize that it is a problem that affects everyone.

Endya, Volunteer

 

I experience several emotions when I think of the #MeToo movement. It is inspiring to see so many people coming forward publicly about their experiences. Sexual assault thrives in silence, and I believe this movement is a huge step toward changing our culture. America seems to be finally acknowledging what sexual assault centers like STAR have known for years. However, I also want to recognize that sharing such a deeply vulnerable part of yourself is a personal choice. To the survivors who do not want to come forward: you are still strong, valid, and worthy. I believe it is unfair of us as a society to put all of the weight on eradicating sexual assault in the hands of the survivors. They survived. They have already done enough. Believing survivors who speak out is vital to ending sexual violence, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Until we start holding offenders accountable, there will always be the need for another #MeToo movement.
Dana, Baton Rouge Counselor

 

Black Women’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol, May 2017

 

I wish I could say that the sheer amount of #MeToo stories shocked me, but unfortunately the campaign solidified what I knew as a woman, a social worker, and now an employee of STAR. Despite my lack of surprise, I have been encouraged by the movement’s ability to cross political, racial, and socioeconomic lines. In this time of divisiveness, a campaign that reminds us of our commonalities as humans, while heartbreaking, is a unifying force. Most women from all walks of life have experienced some form of sexual assault, and seeing their display of bravery and vulnerability on social media is nothing less than inspiring. While the disclosures on platforms such as Facebook may lessen due to the fleeting nature of social media, there has been a culture shift. This is more than a trend; there is a new resolve among survivors to take their power back.

Amy, Greater New Orleans Regional Director

 

I think it wonderful how people have felt moved to share their stories. However, I do not feel that a person’s choice not to share their personal story makes them less brave. There are many reasons a person may not wish to share their story at all, much less on social media.

I do have concerns that the #MeToo movement seems to use gender biased words, focusing on women. I feel that as long as we keep sexual violence a “women’s issue” it will continue to contain built in barriers to survivors and potential partners in ending sexual violence. Sexual violence is a community issue.

The #MeToo movement has started a much needed conversation about sexual violence. It has also empowered some people to come forward. I feel that it is only a starting point in moving the conversation into an inclusive conversation. Most of these seem focused on work place violence. I think this has opened up good conversations about what agencies and companies can do to not just check the completed box off the training requirements, but to make sure that the information is absorbed and the consequences are consistently enforced within companies, political parties/offices, and communities.

I also worry that the nature of the relationships between the abuser and the survivors that are featured in the #MeToo movement may alienate some survivors that experienced sexual violence not like those we are seeing in the media. I would like to see this open up a greater conversation about what sexual violence is and how to get support and help – not just for justice but emotional support as well.

Lisa, Central Louisiana Counselor

 


Central Louisiana Staff at our
Alexandria Open House, March 2017

 

I stay active on multiple social media platforms, so I started to see the #MeToo statuses start coming up immediately. I want thank those very first people who were brave enough to put up the hashtag because I don’t doubt they feared the backlash that comes from challenging rape culture. Their courage empowered so many others, including myself to share their #MeToo stories. I saw complete strangers come together to defend and uplift one another, including acknowledging and embracing the survivors who decided not to share their #MeToo stories. In this short period of time, so many have learned that their stories matter, that they have power over their lives, and that they have a bigger community of support than they may have been able to find before. #MeToo reaffirmed my choice to always, unabashedly disclose the story of my trauma to those who can benefit from hearing it and remain open about my journey in order to be an advocate for survivors and fight to create a society free from sexual violence.

Azriela, Baton Rouge Advocate

 

Coming forward to speak about sexual violence takes a tremendous amount of courage. Even if you have not experienced sexual violence firsthand, you know someone who has or who will; it begins with believing survivors when they disclose. Witnessing the #MeToo movement has been incredible, empowering, uplifting, and scary. So many feelings are entangled in this conversation, however, hearing survivors tell their truth and actually receive support on a national level gives me hope. To all survivors of sexual trauma, thanks for being brave to break the silence; I stand with you.

Brooke, Baton Rouge Counseling Director

 

STAR’s Legal Team was honored with the Legal Service Innovation Award from
the Louisiana Bar Foundation, October 2017

 

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