Understanding the #MeToo Movement: The Impact and the Harm

published on 20 March 2021

By Alina Gao

[TW: This article contains graphic references to forms of sexual assault.]

The #MeToo movement is a social movement against sexual abuse and harassment. Women who have been sexually assaulted by men in powerful positions publicize their stories of abuse. Tarana Burke is the founder of this movement. In 2006, she started using the phrase “me too” to help young women of color who survived sexual assault and abuse.

The goal of the #MeToo movement is to allow victims of sexual assault to stop blaming themselves, inspire others to share their stories, and reduce the number of people affected by sexual assault. It’s about showing people that sexual assault is widespread and non-discriminatory. The #MeToo movement is about justice and recovery. Showing survivors that they’re not alone, that they can recover, and that they can control their life again.

In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This was when the movement started really gaining attention. Over the course of October, many other actresses began sharing their stories about how Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted them. Weinstein’s reputation suffered greatly, impacting his career. On October 5, The New York Times published a story about the plethora of sexual harassment cases committed by Harvey Weinstein. Actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd are among the women who came forward. Weinstein is accused of forcing women to massage him and watch him naked. It is said that he promised to help advance their careers in return for sexual favors. Weinstein issued an apology, acknowledging that he "has caused a lot of pain." However, he disputed all allegations that he harassed female employees for over nearly three decades. On October 8, it was announced that Weinstein has been fired by the board of his company. On October 10, Weinstein's spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister tells The New York Times, "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein." Investigations led to Weinstein’s imprisonment in 2020. What does this mean for the future of sexual assault cases?

So far, the #MeToo movement has gotten US states to ban non-disclosure agreements covering sexual assault. The Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund has helped over 3,600 people seek justice. The movement against the tipped minimum wage is growing, and congress has reformed the process for employees reporting sexual harassment. Some survivors are getting financial support. And most importantly, people in the world are changing how they think about sexual abuse cases and power.

There are systems in place that allow sexual assault to happen, and then for offenders to get away with it. Before the rise of the #MeToo movement, offenders were allowed to make non-disclosure agreements that cover sexual assault, which is what happened to Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant.

Weinstein would try to pull Perkins into bed and expose himself to her in hotel rooms when she went to wake him. Perkins attributed her survival to “humor and aggression” and “lack of ambition in the industry.” Perkins also said that this behavior had become “normalized” to her, which is one of the major problems when it comes to sexual assault. Victims normalize the behavior after being exposed to it so often, that they just grit their teeth through it until they speak out or reach a breaking point.

Perkins was prevented from telling even her family members about the sexual misconduct committed against her, and her silence was essentially bought for 20 years. She signed the NDA after claiming he tried to rape one of her colleagues, Rowena Chiu. Perkins thought that reporting Weinstein’s alleged abuse to the parent company Disney would result in his dismissal, but was instead warned against speaking out.

When Perkins reported the sexual assault case against her, she was told that she could only “agree [to] some form of settlement.”

“It was a huge, horrible realization that ultimately it was about who had the power,” she said. “It would just be two silly girls' word against Harvey Weinstein. And that realization was really upsetting.”

Throughout the case, Perkins and Chiu were “made to feel like criminals.” They signed the NDA, feeling like their silence was “paying him to stop.” Perkins admitted that after she walked out of the building with £125,000 each, she felt “ashamed” and like she had “failed”. The #MeToo movement has allowed her to speak out, and feel a sense of weight being lifted off her shoulders. This is one of the main goals of the movement—allowing survivors to heal.

Another survivor who has spoken out due to the #MeToo movement is Jessica Mann. Like many sexual assault offenders, Weinstein started by building a friendship with Mann. Their relationship lasted 4 years, during which they continued to have sexual encounters. Over the period of their relationship, she repeatedly asked him for favors, including going out to dinners. One of their first encounters included going to a bookstore together, where Weinstein bought Mann 4 books. They also had dinner together, on a separate occasion. In February 2015, Mann asked Weinstein to sponsor her for membership in an exclusive club. Overtime, Weinstein built a relationship with Mann.

The first time Weisiten sexually abused Mann, he had invited Mann and her friend to his hotel suite to review their scripts. When Mann expressed concern, he said “I am a harmless old man.” When they reached the hotel suite, Weinstein separated Mann from her friend, starting with a request for a massage, then forced oral sex on her. She faked an orgasm to “get out of it."

Mann was sexually abused in a hotel room. Weinstein blocked her escape and forced her to undress.

“I was very angry inside and very scared,” she said. “I gave up at that point.”

Weinstein had been manipulating Mann for weeks. He coerced her into a sexual relationship by dangling the possibility of work. Mann had agreed to a few sexual encounters with Weinstein before, she had never had intercourse. She was not physically attracted to him, but rather pitiful.

“When I first saw him naked, I was filled with compassion, absolute compassion,” she said. “It seemed his anger came from a place of pain.”

After that encounter, Mann said she decided to be in a relationship with him. However, that relationship consisted of Weinstein using her like a drug - whenever he needed a fix. Mann said that she tried several times to end their relationship, but whenever she did, she became fearful of what he could do to herself and her family.

Weinstein’s lawyers have argued that Mann had a romantic relationship with the producer after the alleged assault, which further advanced her career. They used multiple emails sent by Mann expressing her affection to him as evidence.

In response to their suggestion that Mann was not raped, but rather consented to have sex with Weinstein in order to benefit her career, Mann replied that speaking out about her relationship with Weinstein "could have been death to any attempt of a career.”

Rape can and does occur in a consensual relationship - such as an abusive marriage. Some victims must choose to remain friendly with their assaulters - whether it’s because they’re in a position of power, or they’ve been silenced by money. The #MeToo movement is trying to convince survivors to speak out, despite the silence forced upon them.

In 2015, Mr. Vance, a Manhattan district attorney for Weinstein, was criticized by many for deciding not to press forcible touching charges against the producer. Later, in 2018, he was put under political pressure to prosecute Weinstein.

“I do want the jury to know he is my rapist, and I hope I can continue to explain the dynamic of why I engaged with him,” Mann said. “I mean, he raped me.”

Mann testified that she did not want others to know about her relationship with Weinstein. However, her emails suggested that she had bragged about her connection to him.

People are often confused when sexual abuse victims maintain a relationship with their abuser. They do not understand that it is usually more complicated than they think. Cases like those often involve the requirement to continue working with the abuser, because they are a coworker or a friend, or the victim is confused as to whether it happened at all. Abusers often try to confuse their victims after they abuse them, by saying “it was a joke,” or outright denying it happened. It makes it easier for them to escape blame.

Weinstein has been convicted of five felony counts, including rape, criminal sexual acts, and predatory sexual assault, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all of them.

Six women agreed to testify against Weinstein. One of them is Annabella Sciorra, an actress who has accused him of raping her in 1993. He gave her a ride home and then forced his way into her apartment, where he raped her. Miriam Haley, a production assistant on one of Weinstein’s shows, testified that he forced her to let him perform oral sex during a meeting in his apartment. In the case of Sciorra, too much time has passed for it to be used as evidence. However, it is part of the case for predatory sexual assault, which requires at least two people to show that the prosecuted committed serious sexual offenses against them.

Mann last had borderline-consensual sex with Weinstein in November 2016. She testified in 2017 stating that Weinstein or his assistant invited her to a hotel to talk with him. She was told he needed to be consoled, and he believed she understood grief since her father had died a year before.

Predators often prey on the emotional sympathy of women. They appeal to women emotionally, using their compassion to make them do favors for them. This includes helping the predators to their cars, where they kidnap and sexually abuse them.

When Mann arrived at the hotel, Weinstein was naked and on the bed. “All he wants to do is something sexual,” she said.

Offenders often use phrases like “you were asking for it” to shift the blame on to their victims, accusing their victims of being “irresistible." In reality, rape is never the choice of the victim, and the only person who can be blamed is the offender. In cases where the abuse is occurring between a boss and an employee, or someone who has done a favor for a friend or coworker, the offender often uses the phrase: “you owe me.” They manipulate the victim into thinking that in order the repay their help, they must have sex with them, and that without them, they would have accomplished nothing. 

When Mann told Weinstein that she could no longer have sex with him since she had a boyfriend, he became angry and attacked her. Mann said that he ripped her from a chair, dragged her into a room, and threw her onto the bed, screaming “you owe me one more time” before later apologizing. 

“I just find you so attractive, I couldn’t resist,” said Weinstein. “We’re friends right?”

Sexual abuse is not as simple as many people think. There are many complicated details as to why some survivors chose to maintain relationships with their abuser, why they didn’t speak out, why they didn’t do more to escape. The #MeToo movement is getting people to change the way they think about sexual abuse cases. It’s getting people to perceive power in a different way. It’s making them understand that some people will abuse this power and that even if those who have been abused did not speak out initially, they deserve to control their lives again.

Published on January 17, 2021.

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