News / Toronto

'A critical turning point': After #MeToo, survivors and activists ask #NowWhat?

In a post-Weinstein world, men and boys have to step up, activists say.

Viktoria Belle started #NowWhat, asking allies what they're going to do and survivors of sexual assault and violence what they need.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Viktoria Belle started #NowWhat, asking allies what they're going to do and survivors of sexual assault and violence what they need.

Viktoria Belle watched this week as, one by one, friends, colleagues and even strangers flooded her social-media feeds with stories of sexual assault and harassment, letting the world know it had happened to them, too.

"When you wake up in the morning as a survivor and you see 150 messages saying #MeToo ... of course you feel solidarity," said Belle.

"But you also feel a type of sadness and a type of pain that comes from the trauma of experiencing sexual assault that is very hard to describe to people who haven't experienced it."

While Belle praised the "incredible and important" vision of #MeToo, started a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke and lit up this week in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, she resents that it puts the onus on survivors to do all the work. Belle is focused on where to go from here, starting #NowWhat, which calls on people to pledge action and for survivors to share what they need.

"You've seen the amount of people who have been sexually assaulted on your page; what are you going to do?" asked Belle, a founder of the Dandelion Initiative, a non-profit created for survivors of sexual assault and violence.

A #MeToo march is planned for Queen's Park this fall, according to a Facebook page, and similar events are planned for Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.. But you don't have to take to the streets to do something. Belle says the most important thing is to believe people when they say they've been sexually assaulted or harassed and to "call things out when you see them that you know are wrong."

Anti-violence activist and academic Lucia Lorenzi sees the current moment as "a step forward" from the "whisper network" of woman-to-woman warnings and open secrets about powerful men. She called on managers to step up and look at their own workplace cultures to see what they could do to prevent and stop harassment and abuse.

In the weeks since the Weinstein reports, other powerful men are falling, from Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon to Amazon boss Roy Price.

While Lorenzi's a bit skeptical about how long this moment will last, she was encouraged to see people who've never spoken publicly about harassment and assault come forward through #MeToo.

"Perhaps the broadness of the hashtag and the vagueness of it in some ways made people feel a little bit safer in using it," she said. But her worry is that people talking about assault and harassment for the first time may not have the support they need or feel they can only come forward at times like these when everyone is talking about it.

Just a few years ago, as the Jian Ghomeshi trial dominated headlines in Toronto, #beenrapedneverreported brought a flood of such stories to the forefront. The hashtag YesAllWomen did the same with stories of harassment, discrimination and sexism that same year.

But Kevin Vowels, community engagement manager with White Ribbon, which works with men and boys to end violence against women, said the "media frenzy" around Weinstein has led to a "critical turning point."

In his workshops leading men and boys on things like consent and not being a bystander, there's one area where he still meets some resistance: believing survivors to build "a culture of deterrence."

That movement took a hit when U.S. President Trump was elected, despite a long list of sexual assault and harassment allegations against him.

"They didn't ruin his name," said Vowels.

"We have, in the highest office in the world, a man who has historically not respected women. And everybody knows it."

Sparked by allegations of sexual assault and harassment by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, people have been sharing their own stories on social media using the hashtag #MeToo. Metro asked Torontonians about the stories they shared and what they hope will come next.

By Sarah-Joyce Battersby

Emile Claire, 26

Emile Claire shared her story with #MeToo on Facebook to help boys and men, like her four-year-old twins, understand and change entrenched gender roles.

Emile Claire / Facebook

Emile Claire shared her story with #MeToo on Facebook to help boys and men, like her four-year-old twins, understand and change entrenched gender roles.

A single mom to twin boys, Emile, 26, was looking forward to a rare night out with a girlfriend. But she found herself alone with a man she thought was a friend who wouldn't take no for an answer. So she "slugged him one right in the nose.” She shared her story on Facebook of feeling frozen, confused, even guilty. “My little family, I just felt like I had failed them," she said. But it's her family that's pushed her past those feelings and to teach her sons about entrenched gender roles and how they warp power relations. "I’m going to turn this into strength and motivation and power to raise my children to make a better place.”

Allysa Jayden, 24

Allysa Jayden shared her story using #MeToo.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Allysa Jayden shared her story using #MeToo.

Allysa Jayden loves her job as an independent sex worker. It's an industry she chose freely and where she's forged "some of the best relationships I've had with human beings." But when she spoke out online about keeping the community safe, she was inundated with rape and death threats. At first, she was almost too shocked and scared to move from her couch. She "agonized for hours" before sharing the story with #MeToo. She urges everyone who is ready to speak out. "It's a necessary evil," she said. "Staying silent while it happens only helps the people perpetrating it."

Emily B., 18

As a lesbian woman recently married to a woman who identifies as lesbian and trans, Emily B. wanted to share a voice from the queer community.

@markwatneyy/Twitter

As a lesbian woman recently married to a woman who identifies as lesbian and trans, Emily B. wanted to share a voice from the queer community.

The details are difficult to talk about for Emily. She was 16 and at the library. And made to feel it was her fault. "It can happen to anyone anywhere," she told Metro. As a lesbian woman recently married to a woman who identifies as lesbian and trans, she wanted to share a voice from the queer community. “If we could work on including everybody in these conversations, there would be more awareness around how to deal with events like this.”

Kiera Alexandra Mackay, 19

Kiera Alexandra Mackay shared her story using #MeToo.

@alexandra_maac/Twitter

Kiera Alexandra Mackay shared her story using #MeToo.

"#MeToo because my 'graduation trip' turned into my darkest memory. It was not my fault," tweeted Kiera Alexandra Mackay. The 19-year-old journalism student wanted to reach other women who felt alone, like she did. Dealing with the stress and suppressed feelings triggered an eating disorder, something she hopes to help other people avoid. "Positive coping mechanisms are out there, and this movement may have just been another one of them," she said.

Jane Walker, 36

Jane Walker has more than one story to share.

@Jane_E_Walker / Twitter

Jane Walker has more than one story to share.

Like many women, Jane Walker has more than one story to share, from street harassment to being taken advantage of by people in power. Adding her voice to the chorus was "incredibly hard," she said. "But it’s harder for people who don’t have a voice." In the current political climate, she fears progress is being rolled back. "People don’t have to be scared. People don’t have to hide behind humour or listen to jokes. I hope it just shines a light on how serious it is.”

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