This story, along hundreds of others, demonstrates the courage, bravery and strength of the thousands of followers of the Instagram page @MeTooMeredith. It is a simple idea: survivors of sexual violence and harassment send a direct private message to @MeTooMeredith, I send them a message back requesting permission to post their story without any identifying information, and then I post it on the Instagram page. In a nutshell, MeTooMeredith is a social media platform that gives survivors a place to share their stories anonymously.
Since I started the account only a few months ago, I’ve received hundreds and hundreds of stories – too many for Instagram’s direct messaging system to count (at this point, it perpetually says 99+ in my inbox). But MeTooMeredith started out small. In my job teaching the course Sexual Deviance and Society as a professor at the University of Oklahoma, students often disclose to me their stories of sexual violence and I try to help them the best I can. But with the power of the #MeToo movement and so many survivors coming forward, it just hit me that I could use social media to create a platform where survivors could share their stories anonymously. I had no idea if this was something that would take off, but I wanted to give it a shot.
Tarana Burke’s Influence
The Me Too Movement itself was started long before social media. Tarana Burke’s grassroots efforts working with young women of color paved the way for a dialogue about these issues where we can share with one another that we’ve gone through similar experiences of sexual violence and harassment. I’ve followed her career and I even had the chance to write her biography, but I didn’t quite know how to help the Me Too Movement directly myself. After the Silence Breakers smashed open the atrocities of sexual violence in Hollywood, Burke invited the world to keep fighting. As reported in the New York Times , Burke said, “I think now the work really begins.” MeTooMeredith is a grassroots effort that builds on the shoulders of giants and works toward the continued support of survivors and their stories.
Dr. Ford’s Influence
The MeTooMeredith page was only a few weeks old when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford addressed the world on September 27, 2018. Like so many others, tears rolled down my face as I listened to every word Dr. Ford uttered as she told her story of sexual violence. As survivors, we were not only feeling the depth of her words but also reliving our own experiences with unwanted, nonconsensual, sexualized encounters. Hearing Dr. Ford motivated me to work even harder to give survivors a voice and invigorated me to keep posting on MeTooMeredith. At the time I had a small following, less than 100 people and a handful of stories from survivors. Then about two weeks later, on October 15, 2018 (the one-year anniversary of Alyssa Milano’s first #MeToo tweet in 2017), MeTooMeredith really started to take off. I received about 10 stories that day, the next day 10 or 20 more, and the same with the next and the next. In less than a week, I had over 1,000 followers and my inbox was full of stories waiting to be heard.
On MeTooMeredith, there are so many stories. There are stories of child abuse; stories of intimate partner violence between husband and wife; stories of incest; stories of college students drinking at parties. There are stories of military violence and stories of teacher-student harassment and assault. They are from all over the world – Greece, India, Australia, the United Kingdom (to name a few). Some are young teens, some are grandmothers. Some are men, some are transgender. They are gay, straight, bisexual and queer. Most indicate they didn’t report their stories to the police. Some even say that they have not told anyone about their experience (with the exception of sharing with MeTooMeredith). The stories are as diverse as the people are. There is no pattern, because this is such an insidious issue. It affects everyone in some shape or form.
The stories themselves are extremely difficult to read. I include a “Trigger Warning” across the top of all posts because they can be upsetting. Readers should be aware that if they follow MeTooMeredith, it will most likely be triggering. It is hard to be the person reading and posting all of these stories, but what keeps me going are all the thoughtful “thank yous” that people send me. I am also motivated by the beautiful community of followers that help and support each other on the page. They say things like “I believe you. Message me if you want to talk.” They even police the trolls and put them in their place. It is really a beautiful thing. We are all connected to each other through our painful experiences with sexual violence, but we are also connected through our strength and through our abilities to heal with one another.
This is something I post about on MeTooMeredith as well. About a month ago my friend, University of North Carolina at Wilmington sociology professor Kim Cook, suggested I think about incorporating a dialogue on MeTooMeredith focused on the healing power that sharing our stories can have. Lately, I’ve been posting under #sharingishealing, because I think this too can help survivors to heal. It is cathartic to share our stories, but it also helps others to hear stories they can relate to. When we know we are helping others, it helps us to heal.
500 Stories and Counting…
To date, I have posted nearly 500 stories, but there are so many more waiting to be heard – and I get more every day. Survivors want to be heard and with more followers of MeTooMeredith, survivors’ stories are being lifted up. We are also able to reach more people and to start to make changes. I want to be able to raise my four-year-old daughter in a world where we take sexual violence seriously, where people believe survivors, where we are not plagued by the burden of “proving” we were assaulted and where 1 in 4 women are no longer sexually assaulted in their lifetimes; a world where people understand that men are also victims of sexual violence and that transgender and non-binary people are even more likely to be assaulted than cis men and women.
Sexual violence is an EVERYONE issue. We all need to work together to make changes. This is a systemic problem, so we need massive work at both micro and macro levels to make a difference. It is my hope that MeTooMeredith is helping.
The transcript of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of United States The Supreme Court on September 27, 2018 is available via the Washington Post.
Dr. Meredith G. F. Worthen created the #MeTooMeredith Instagram page and is a professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma who specializes in LGBTQ issues, intersectionalites, gender, and sexual assault/violence (see more on her website: www.meredithworthenphd.com). She is also the creator of The Welcoming Project, a non-profit organization that provides free "All Are Welcome" rainbow signs to LGBTQ-friendly places across the globe.