The #metoo movement and the power of social media
Social media are confirmed as a new means of reporting abuse immediately; many women have posted the courage to tell their stories thanks to the testimonies of others and the MeToo movement.
Sexual abuse is an event still too widespread in society and affects women regardless of their background and country of origin (World Health Organization, 2014). In fact, about 25% of women say they have had unwanted contact with a man in their lifetime (Black et al., 2011), confirming the alarming fact that women run a high risk of being abused sexual, especially where their condition is made more vulnerable due to individual factors, such as young age, the presence of disabilities, and the type of work and environments frequented (Hoxmeier, 2016).
Although this issue is increasingly discussed and the subject of public sensitivity, women’s testimonies are often not believed, and the sense of guilt and fear can lead to keeping hidden what happened, trying to erase what happened, which, however, continues to persist in the lives of the victims, causing individual problems, such as greater depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, as well as a greater vulnerability for physical diseases (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006), with repercussions also on interpersonal relationships and on working in the workplace.
However, the MeToo movement, founded by the American activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and then becoming rampant in the world of social media with the hashtag #metoo starting from 2017, has given rise to a wave of testimonies of the abuses suffered. In fact, starting from the example of women known and known in the world of entertainment, millions of people have posted their experiences on their social networks and received support from the community, and, wanting to deepen the stories that have emerged, the present study (Alaggia & Wang , 2020) aims to investigate 171 posts on social media related to sexual abuse, suffered as a single or repeated episode, experienced in childhood or adulthood, by women.
The results show above all that social media are confirmed as a new means of declaring abuse immediately, as the testimonies of others give the necessary strength to do the same, without fear of being judged or marginalized. Many women have posted that they found the courage to talk about themselves thanks to the MeToo movement ‘I was raped for almost a year by a professor while I was in graduate school’ (Twitter User 81) and that I followed the example of famous people ‘Lady Gaga, I feel strong enough to tell the violence suffered, you have helped me so much with your words on this topic, thanks to you I can go on and start telling my story’ (User Reddit 23).
In addition, it was highlighted that many women who did not know or remember being raped, thanks to information received from television, news and the MeToo movement, were able to become aware of the events experienced and previously normalized.
Still, it was found that the main reasons women don’t usually talk about their abuses are the fear of not being believed ‘I never told anyone else … because the victims of abuse are constantly blamed for what happened and silenced when they try to talk ‘(Reddit User 12), the pervasive feelings of shame’ I still struggle to deal with it, but I never talk about it because I’m ashamed to admit I’m a rape victim ‘(Twitter User 12 ), the fear of the judgment of others and the consequences of their actions’ I was also at a point in my life where I could not bear mentally being raped and moreover losing a friend. My brain somehow invented a situation where everything was fine and I wanted it ‘(Reddit User 21), in addition to the insecurity of the extent of the abuse ‘I told my husband about the harassment I had experienced before we met, and he was quite surprised because I had never told him. When I was young I just accepted them ‘(Twitter User 6).
In addition, it has been found that these women have generally received positive and supportive responses. However, in some cases they were not believed and the extent of the seriousness of the situation was underestimated when they were considered partly responsible for the event, for example due to the fact that they were provoking and potentially available in the eyes of the attacker, or because they did not explicitly reject the sexual proposals received, as under the effect of alcohol or other substances.
In the same way, contradictory answers emerged from the legal professionals, since in some cases the testimonies were not accepted and no measures were taken to prevent other episodes from being repeated.
In conclusion, the ease and freedom with which social media allow communication, have proved to be of great help to many women, who have seized the opportunity to face and overcome this trauma, demonstrating great strength and determination.