[TRIGGER WARNING: Please read carefully, share responsibly and seek support when needed]
On March 12, London-based blogger, London Feminist, explored the scope of silence–and silencing–experienced by survivors of sexual harassment by creating the Twitter hashtag #ididnotreport. She writes, “I had no idea how powerful that would be. I had imagined that it was predominantly low-level street harassment which was not reported…Far more serious attacks go unreported.”
In little more than a week, thousands of tweets and retweets from around the world have included #ididnotreport, using just 140 characters to share the personal, and often painful barriers to reporting sexual assault, with many disclosing experiences of rape, incest and child sexual abuse — some doing so for the first time.
User @ohmymaggs writes, “#IDidNotReport it when I was a child to protect my family, whom I loved and didn’t want to hurt. Wish he’d felt the same.”
Another tweet, by @AnonymousLark, reads, ” I was just a kid, ashamed & afraid. I got out of the situation, w/minor trauma. But I wonder how many girls I let down cause #ididnotreport”.
These tweets illustrate the toxic effect of the harmful social norms that discourage victims from coming forward, but they also highlight opportunities for health promotion through social media and other alternative, safe spaces for victims to break their silence and be received with validation. Our NYC friends and allies at Hollaback! note that online anti-violence activism such as #ididnotreport (and, I might add, all the amazing contributors to iHollaback.org) can “provide survivors of sexual abuse and victims of sexual harassment a mountain to shout their stories from.” A mountain. I love it.
Indeed, many supporters are using the #ididnotreport hashtag as a way to commend and validate victims for their courage: User @meghsaid writes, “Reading #ididnotreport is making me cry in public. You’re all strong beautiful creatures, it was not your fault #webelieveyou”. As my colleague Jes wisely pointed out, the space is also needed to “remind people that the choice they made was ok,” and it seems many followers of #ididnotreport similarly recognize that many victims still experience challenges to reporting despite the creation of this “spontaneous support group.”
Musician and activist (and one of this writer’s personal heroes) Billy Bragg tweeted, “Anyone who believes that equality has been achieved and feminism no longer matters should listen to the women at #ididnotreport.” His message points to the urgency of #ididnotreport: Not only do we live in a culture where individuals endure sexual violence, but we live in a culture that revictimizes those who seek justice. London Feminist notes, “It made me wonder: what would happen if, just for a month, or even a week, every woman who is intimidated or threatened or groped or grabbed or fondled or frightened by street harassment actually did report it? I imagine the criminal justice system would collapse. And would it remedy or intensify the culture of disbelief?”
Alexis Marbach of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault shares her hope that the space for storytelling created by #ididnotreport generates a greater conversation about the need for “a climate where survivors feel supported, valued, and heard.” Alexis identifies the opportunity for prevention here as well: a culture that lovingly and unconditionally supports survivors who come forward is a culture where people can live freer from sexual violence.