#MeToo (3/3): One Year On. What Does it All Mean?

(Image: NY Mag)

BY KATIE MAGUIRE, North America Editor

Part 1

Part 2

***

After exploring the impact of #MeToo on the entertainment and political spheres, in this final part the focus will turn to how it has affected the day to day lives of most people and the conversations around sexual assault of women and men.

#MeToo certainly seems to have had a positive impact on the number of women coming forward and seeking support for abuse they have experienced. From October to December 2017, calls to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a US crisis hotline, rose by 23% compared with the same period in 2016.

It has also been credited with helping improve workplace environments and making them safer for women to come forward without fear that this could damage their career. In a study published by the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly a third of executives surveyed said they have changed their behaviours to some degree to avoid conduct that could be perceived as sexual harassment.

#MeToo, though prominently seen as a movement for women, has also positively impacted male victims of sexual assault. Terry Crews, former NFL player turned actor, accused a high-level Hollywood agent of groping him at a party, and has since appeared before the Senate to give testimony about #MeToo and its implications.

Terry Crews has been a particularly transformative voice in how society views sexual assault perpetrated by men. Terry Crews is famous for his muscular build, a former NFL player many pointed out that he could have retaliated physically against his alleged abuser with ease.

The fact that he refrained from doing so, however, is incredibly important in shaping the narrative for men and dispelling with the toxic masculinity that all too often prevents survivors from coming forward. Most critically, Cruz is broadening the picture of those who are sexually abused and showing that it could happen to anyone. His macho image has helped to dispel with the idea that male victims must be weak or incapable and has led to an outpouring of similar tales of abuse from other men.

This feeds into one of the broader impacts of #MeToo in educating men about masculinity and how certain behaviours can be toxic. A Call To Men is a social activist group that promotes healthy, respectful ways of “being a man” that has also received an increase in enquiries.

When speaking to the BBC, cofounder Ted Bunch said “Most notably, we have seen an increase in corporations seeking to understand why sexual harassment in the workplace is so pervasive,”

“Most men are not abusive,” he says, “but nearly all men have laughed at a sexist joke or objectified a woman in some way. Once you connect the dots and show men how the jokes they see as harmless actually validate and fuel more harmful behaviour, they are quick to change.”

A Los Angeles-based non-profit group specifically supporting male survivors of sexual assault told the BBC that #MeToo has had a rapid and measurable impact on the number of men reaching out to them since it went viral last year.

“We saw a 110% increase in web traffic and a 103% increase in the use of our online helpline service between September and October 2017, and the trend has continued.”

#MeToo has however received a lot of criticism from men and women alike for promoting a culture in which any accusation against men is immediately believed and their side is not heard for fear of accusations of victim blaming. Many news outlets have reported on men who fear they will be accused for personal reasons, or for political, strategic reasons. One woman reported for CNN that she believed her male friend had been accused by a woman because he passed her up for a promotion, and was subsequently dismissed without investigation.

This is an issue which threatens to damage the movement and would be terrible for both men and women. False accusations could undermine genuine accusers. When accusations are proved false the fear is that the reaction would be “You see, all these stories aren’t true. Women are making it up.”. Indeed, there is a prevailing narrative that there are many false allegations made by women against men.

However, a 2010 US study found that over the past 20 years, only 2-10% of rape accusations are proven to be false, and said accusations almost never lead to jail time. False rape accusations very rarely lead to convictions or wrongful jail time. Research from the British Home Office showing that in the early 2000s, of the 216 cases that were classified as false allegations, only six led to an arrest.

When you compare this to the fact that official figures from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest that only 35% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported, it puts the perceived risk of a false accusation into perspective.

That is not to say that false accusations do not occur and are not to be condemned, but the #MeToo movement, and any other that encourages women to come forward and offers them a safer environment to do so, should not be dismissed because of the occasional false allegation. Each case should be dealt with by communication and proper investigation.

Although this is a difficult line to walk given the lack of physical evidence in many scenarios, the fact remains that #MeToo is making a notably positive impact on both female and male victims of sexual harassment, and employers and corporations must continue to be held accountable for fostering safer workplaces.

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