‘Me Too’ originates from a sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke, who used the term in 2006 to empower women, especially those who are young and vulnerable, to speak out about their abuse and secure justice for their suffering. In October 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted a request out to her many followers, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The actress encouraged them to turn the phrase into #MeToo to help reveal the extent of sexual harassment and assault by showing others how many people have experienced and been affected by these types of events.
Due to this movement, several American states are banning nondisclosure agreements that cover sexual harassment and are introducing protections for more workers. One example is California, which banned the agreements involving sexual assault, harassment, or sex discrimination in September 2018. The issue of nondisclosure agreements was unmasked by the coverage of Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men who had been caught using contracts to hide the sexual harassment they had been inflicting.
The movement goes beyond sexual harassment though. As feared at the beginning of lockdown, reports of domestic violence cases have increased as women and men have been stuck in their homes with abusers for prolonged periods of time. A survey of survivors by the SafeLives charity found that 61% of survivors were unable to reach out for support during lockdowns “partly because they weren’t able to access phone or online support, or their perpetrator was with them all the time”. The charity also released data in August this year from domestic violence services, who had reported a 38% increase in demand during the previous month. The Counting Dead Women project, which is dedicated to women murdered by domestic violence, told MPs that between the 23rd of March and the 12th of April, “at least 16 domestic abuse killings had taken place – much higher than the average for the time of year” and calls made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline were reported to be “running at 43% higher than normal” only three weeks after the lockdown was introduced.
During the initial stages of the Covid-19 crisis, Refuge reported around 50% increase in demand to its Helpline, and a 300%+ increase in visits to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website… Calls and contacts to the Helpline have risen to a weekly average increase of 66% and visits to our website (where women can request a safe time to be contacted) have seen a phenomenal 950% rise compared to pre Covid-19. – Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge (May 2020)
The government initially provided helplines and online services with a ‘package of support’ of £2million and their #YouAreNotAlone public awareness campaign in April 2020. This was followed in May by an extra £76million for charities supporting survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, as well as victim of modern slavery and vulnerable children. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak recognised, “whilst staying at home for a prolonged period of time is a challenge for us all, for some it poses a different kind of struggle, which takes place behind closed doors.”
The increase in domestic abuse and sexual harassment during lockdown indicates that, even after four years, the #MeToo movement is still relevant in catching the perpetrators of abuse and providing support to victims. According to the Office of National Statistics, 4.2% of men and 7.9% of women in England and Wales suffered from domestic abuse in 2018, which equates to around 685,000 men and 1,300,000 women. It is vital for these victims to get protection and justice.
In the UK, the national domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. You can also visit Women’s Aid, or contact the Men’s Advice Line at 0808 801 0327. If you or someone you know is in danger, call 999 immediately and report the situation to the police. For more information on how to access help go to: http://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/daa/domestic-abuse/support-helplines/