Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, November 21, 2018

#MeToo: As a survivor, I have to use my voice

We live in a tragic world filled with “frat boys” who never grew up

#MeToo: As a survivor, I have to use my voice

Two or three weeks in to the string of sexual harassment accusations, I was on the metro going to work when a sudden and seemingly uncontrollable furor swept over me. It was as though the lights in the train went and all I could see were the whites of the eyes of men all around me, their hungry stares looking into me.

It was as though they knew.

As though they knew they could control me, abuse me and get away with it. It was like they knew that even just by looking at me a few seconds longer than your average glance, they had violated me. Standing too tall intimidates them. After all, sexual assault is ultimately a need to exert power and trap a person in a cage of shame and self-doubt. I wanted to scream and tell them that my body is not for their taking. This rage made me realize that as a survivor, I had to use my voice like so many others did. So, I decided to write this.

During my sophomore year, I was raped during a fraternity party by someone I knew.

However, I did not confront the incident wholeheartedly until almost seven months later. Subconsciously, I was giving my assailant the benefit of the doubt. I told myself that he was drunk, or maybe he thought it was OK because we knew each other.

Maybe he liked me.

But, none of that justified his actions. With great difficulty, I came to accept what had happened and inevitably, I approached parties, fraternities and the male gaze with an extra layer of skepticism.

Somehow, I limited my skepticism to college, particularity frat boys. As someone who doesn't generalize groups of people, especially as a member of a professional fraternity, it irked me that one person tainted my image of fraternities. But I knew that I was not the only survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a fraternity member.

I told myself that I had learned my lesson and to trust a party boy is foolish. However, I convinced myself that this was temporary. Frat boys graduate. When they get a taste of the real world, they’ll be put in their place. But, as I’ve read the avalanche of #MeToo stories in the last few months, I’ve realized that we are surrounded by a toxic combination of misogyny and lust for power. We live in a tragic world filled with frat boys who never grew up.

This does not mean that there are not powerful women in the world. Most of the women who spoke out against people like film producer Harvey Weinstein have powerful careers and reputations. Their courage is what made me want to speak up. It made me realize that I had the ability to educate my friends and peers about toxic male fraternity culture and how casual comments and jokes about assault normalizes the behavior.

But, I wondered what I could do to feel protected, especially when my assaulter was someone I used to see relatively regularly on campus. I once tried to hide in line at a coffee shop when I saw my assailant go to the counter to grab his drink. I didn’t feel protected enough to face him head on, much less to tell people about what happened or report him. This disparity is further seen in the coverage of the assault that blue-collar workers face. My Facebook feed was filled with articles about Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others. However, I didn’t see any about sexual harassment at Ford or many about regular people getting assaulted by their average, regular bosses.

That’s why the #MeToo campaign made me more uncomfortable than empowered. Thousands of women are trying to have their voices heard. It was a movement made by women who felt alone, coming together and realizing — while also telling the world — that they are not alone. But, should we be satisfied with the fact that the movement was so widespread? It crossed borders, languages and cultures only to prove that sexual harassment and assault has become our norm. While the movement spoke volumes, a part of me feels as though the need to bring justice to these women was lost.

Part of me also knows that there are girls who are struggling to confront the fact that they are survivors, girls who are torn because of self-doubt, victim-shaming and the truth. The question is whether the movement achieved more than a feeling of solidarity. In a way, it proved what many of us already knew, but it fell short in holding people accountable. Does someone who is an assailant or would-be assailant look at the hashtag and fear the voice of a million? Or do they see each hashtag drown in a sea of viral movements?

When the Pandora’s Box of sexual assault opened with Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, I didn’t know what to feel. As a journalism student, names like journalist and TV host Charlie Rose are commonplace and associated with professionalism and achievement. Many of us grew up watching anchor Matt Lauer on The Today Show. Over the course of a few weeks, my entire perception of the people who were prime examples of the kind of journalists I want to become was contorted in revolting ways. The entire industry was suddenly stained, and the fear I felt in the fraternity house washed over me.

But this time, I pictured myself in a newsroom. These stories have affected the way I view my future and made me think about whether I need to prepare myself to face another wave of nonconsensual sexual advances.

More important, will I be prepared to leave my job if I face harassment?

As the days go by, this #MeToo will fade from our memories, allowing people to potentially repeat this kind of behavior and offense, or worse yet, think that they can get away with it (again). The thought of such repetition is beyond frightening. The Time’s Up initiative that aims to legally fight sexual harassment in the workplace is a good start, and a celebrity backing never hurts. But, we have to ensure that we do not let this passion and thirst for justice fizzle away. This cannot be the start of a movement that ends too quickly, because if one plan could fix this, then this injustice could have been fixed a long time ago. As a community, we have to ensure that these crimes are not forgotten. We have to let the voices ring in our minds, whether it is actor Ashley Judd, a Ford worker or one of the many women who tweeted #MeToo.

It is not until these powerful men realize that they have truly become pariahs socially and in their industry that other men will understand that they cannot silence any woman. We have not succeeded as a safe and modern society until there is no longer a need for a #MeToo campaign.

Sonikka Loganathan is a junior in the School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle.

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