International Women's Day: Can the #MeToo and Time's Up movements be converted into actual change?

8th Mar 18 | Lifestyle

On International Women's Day, we consider whether these movements can actually be helpful.

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Over the past year or so, there’s been a seismic shift in the way society talks about sexual assault.

Thanks to the brave women speaking out against film producer Harvey Weinstein, there has been an explosion in conversations around harassment – something which was lacking before.

Now, instead of being swept under the carpet, many more people (predominantly women) are speaking out about the abuse they have suffered.

Time's Up badges
(Yui Mok/PA)

While the #MeToo movement has done much to shine a light on the abuse that many are subjected to, it’s hard to know if this will translate into real change in the lives of women.

As it is International Women’s Day, we spoke to Victoria Myers, head of abuse claims at Graham Coffey Solicitors and Co, about whether the Time’s Up campaign is actually being translated into real change, and what can be done to move it along.

Celebrities encourage other victims of abuse to speak out

For Myers, celebrities coming forward with their own stories of abuse sets a precedent, and will hopefully encourage non-famous people to do the same.

“I think that celebrities speaking out will have a huge impact, and give others the courage to come forward about any abuse and harassment that they have been subjected to,” she says.

While there is the argument that non-famous people will feel like the experiences of celebrities are too far removed from their own to be comparable, Myers doesn’t agree.

“Most people admire celebrities, they have both fame and fortune and what many will perceive to be a perfect life. However, this perception is not always reality and celebrities often face many of the same problems that non-famous people do,” she explains.

“Survivors of abuse often feel guilty and ashamed. Many survivors may think that if it is OK for a high profile celebrity to speak out then it is also OK for them to do the same thing.”

In fact, Myers has already felt the impact of #MeToo first-hand. She has seen an increase in enquiries and claims from victims of sexual abuse, and has discussed the campaign with them. “They see it as a positive movement that is helping to breaking down barriers and enabling others to gain the confidence to speak out. Some of the survivors of abuse that now have the courage to come forward may have remained silent for many years,” she says.

The campaigns make perpetrators think twice

While it is definitely a positive thing that victims of sexual abuse are feeling increasingly comfortable talking about their experiences, this does little to tackle the underlying problem: The abuse itself.

It’s too early to tell if #MeToo has made a lasting difference, but Myers hopes that the movements will discourage men from future harassment. “Perpetrators may think twice if they think that they may be reported, and could lose their job as a result,” she says.

Of course men should be discouraged from harassment because it is wrong rather than because of the ramifications.

Victims of abuse need to be better supported

A big incentive for victims to come forward is if they feel like there is a solid network in place to support them.

For Myers, this needs to be improved. “I would like to see easier access to NHS mental health services for survivors,” she says. “My clients often comment that there is often limited availability of services such as counselling. I would like to see more funding given to charities and peer support groups that offer services to survivors.”

The global reach of #MeToo has been huge, so time will tell whether this translates into better support for victims. The taboo around sexual abuse is slowly being tackled, so hopefully increased conversations around the subject will then pave the way for improved support.

Awareness still needs to be spread

Education is key, as is the continuance of campaigns like Time’s Up. Myers says: “It is important that the current momentum of this campaign continues to grow and that it does not just disappear.

“The campaign needs to continue to educate people as education can change attitudes. If attitudes change than we will hopefully see a reduction in instances of sexual harassment.”

In England it was only last year that sex and relationship education was made compulsory in all schools, showing just how slow the system is to keep up with the times.

Society’s thinking about consent is shifting and changing as we have more conversations on the topic, so the school curriculum needs to be regularly updated to reflect this.

The problem of race needs to be tackled

The aim of the Time’s Up campaign is undoubtedly admirable but it’s unfortunately an imperfect movement. There is a definite problem with race. It sadly seems to be harder for women of colour to be believed when they share their stories, as many receive pushback instead of being listened to.

Take the examples of Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek – black and Latino women who joined the voices of many others in accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment. While Weinstein has largely kept quiet, many don’t think it was coincidence that Nyong’o and Hayek were some of the few people that he spoke out against to deny their accusations.

If the movement is to really change behaviours, it has to work on being more inclusive.

© Press Association 2018