After #MeToo went viral, as people shared their stories of sexual assault and harassment, columnist Nicole Brodeur heard from many readers who aren’t on social media but wanted their stories heard.
She remembered every detail.
The exit on the freeway, the spot in South Seattle where he pulled off. The name of the warehouse, the stand of trees and the shack behind them, where a friend of her boyfriend forced her to perform oral sex. She cried the whole time.
She was 18 then. She’s 64 now. And she remembers everything.
Triggered by #MeToo? Here’s help
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center
24-Hour Resource Line: 1-888-998-6423
Shepherd’s Counseling Services
Offers long-term, affordable therapy for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline
“Like it was yesterday,” she told me.
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She called because she doesn’t have a Facebook page or a Twitter handle but wanted to be part of the #MeToo movement, in which women posted the phrase on social media — a kind of virtual raising of hands — to indicate that they had been sexually harassed or abused.
The movement was started 10 years ago by Brooklyn-based activist Tarana Burke to heal and empower young women of color who had been sexually abused. But it went viral on Oct. 15, when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out #MeToo and urged others who had been hurt to do the same.
In the 24 hours that followed, 4.7 million people around the world had engaged in the #MeToo movement on Facebook, with more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions. (Facebook didn’t have any updated statistics, according to spokesperson Sarah Tanner.)
But there are scores of older women without access to social media who also have vivid memories of similar abuses. So they contacted me after I wrote a column on the #MeToo movement.
“I wanted it to be known,” said another 64-year-old woman who told me of “atrocities” she endured and has managed with years of therapy.
“I have no place to say ‘Me, too,’ ” wrote another woman who had been molested by an older cousin more than 70 years ago.
Another woman recalled being raped at 14 by her family’s waiter on a cruise ship. In high school, a boy grabbed her breasts every day for several days, and in college she was held in a room by a fraternity boy “who didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
She’s 61 now. And she wanted to be heard, she wanted to be part of something. She wanted to say “Me, too,” and bring a long-held secret into the light so we all can see it — and its power over her can fade.
One woman — also in her 60s — recalled getting on a bus to go compete in a track meet. She was 16; it was her first time traveling alone. A man got on the bus and sat beside her. They talked for a few minutes, and then he turned off the overhead light. He started to kiss her and fondle her and put his hands between her legs.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she told me. “I sat there, frozen.” She noticed the bus driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror, watching them. When the bus stopped at the Canadian border, the man got off the bus and never got back on.
“I hadn’t a clue about sexual assault,” she said. “Not a clue.”
Clearly, we’re not finished with this. These #MeToo conversations — and these stories — will continue because the memories just don’t fade with time. Nor should the insistence that men understand the damage they have done with their off-handed comments, brutal attacks and everything in between.
“In 37 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, who called the #MeToo movement “a watershed moment.”
“There is a building crescendo of people coming forward,” she said, “and significant cultural events where people who are well-known and respected are seen to be sex predators.
But at some point, the movement is going to die down. And in its place, Stone said, there has to be a commitment of political, private and public will to respond with training in workplaces and schools, changes in law enforcement and increased prosecution.
“It needs to fall back on the institutions we all live in,” Stone said. “We need to say, ‘You can’t do this, and if you do, you will be held accountable.’ We can be saying all we want about ‘Come forward,’ but unless there is some follow-up in the systems we have established as a society, we’re not going to get anywhere.
“If we can’t do that now, I don’t know when we’re going to do it,” she said.
There has been progress, though, on a more personal front.
The woman who was molested on the bus told me of a recent family gathering where she noted her younger, female relatives; “ … how strong and professional these young women are,” she said.
“In moving about the room listening to my 32-year-old daughter and her female cousins speak about their daily lives and challenges, I was encouraged,” she continued. “They move forward with confidence in their personal and professional lives.
“They are sure and confident in what’s right and what’s wrong.”
And thanks to #MeToo, the woman who was assaulted in South Seattle all those years ago — “like it was yesterday” — was moved to tell her husband of 44 years what happened. She had never said a word before now.
“He came over,” she said, “and put his arms around me.”