The #MeToo campaign started on Twitter Sunday afternoon. It seeped into Facebook status messages and as images on Instagram. If you are confused about what it is, let me explain… But know this, if someone shared a status message with #MeToo, do not ask them to share their personal story. Butt out. You are not entitled to their story. It is none of your business. If someone did not share the message on their wall, it does not necessarily mean they have not been through sexual abuse. They would just like their space. Respect that.

How it started –

Over the last few days, Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, has been making headlines for sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations. Here is a report documenting some cases of those who have been victims of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. He has over 30 different sexual abuse allegations to his name. However, sexual assault/sexual harassment is not restricted to people in any one profession. On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter and posted the following:

Why it started –

For those of you who do not understand the point of this, take a few minutes to give this issue your undiverted attention.

I have been a victim of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

To some, it might sound like a daily affair and that victims should “move on”. To some, it might sound like a sensitive topic that they should not talk further about in public. To some, it might sound like a bunch of words strung together and nothing more. But to most, it sends chills down their spine because they have been there too.

Let me tell you something about sexual harassment/assault. Your profession does not matter. The length of your skirt does not matter. Your skin color does not matter. Your nationality or the language you speak does not matter. Your social status does not matter. Your gender or sexual orientation does not matter. Hell, it does not matter if you are 6 or 65 years old.  It does not matter if you say “Please stop” or “No!”, irrespective of whether it is said feebly or firmly. But what does seem to work sometimes is saying “I have a boyfriend”. Why? Because some men respect only the thoughts of other men. They feel entitled to sexual favors from the rest of us. The need for power and control is what drives most violators.  

Women are sexually harassed by men at least once in their lifetime, and if that does not scare you, you should be worried. There are, of course, varying levels of assault and harassment.

It should not all be equated to one problem.

For those of you who have been following #MeToo on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, you would have read stories of women, men and non-binary folks who have been victims of sexual abuse. Some, multiple times. People who do not understand the gravity of these reports take sexual harassment lightly. Sexual harassment and sexual assault range from unwelcome advances to inappropriate conduct (with or without physical contact) to rape. None of these should be trivialized.

Here is the story of my best friend who was one such girl, born and raised in what one would term a “low-risk” family. As a seven-year-old, she trusted the neighbor (of over seven years) from her village. Silly seven-year-olds trust most people. The result of that blind trust was him sliding his hands into her trousers. She voiced out to her grandmother about the man being a predator, that smart seven-year-old. Sadly, it was brushed off as a child not knowing the world enough. That was just the beginning. Men followed and made unwarranted sexual advances as the now 12-year old girl made her way to her evening classes. She voiced out, but only to see her voice being drowned out by the nonchalant attitude of evening commuters. She watched her best friend being groped in front of her and sexually frustrated men make advances at different instances. She screamed for help, but help never came. All of this and more before she was 15. “Ensure you do not provoke them”, they later said. She did not dress provocatively. She was not drunk. She was not walking outside in the wee hours of the night. She was merely a child. It does not matter who she is, or where she is from. What matters is her story and I really hope it bothers you.

I understand the annoying question that has been running in the back of your mind – Why go public about personal stories? Well, no problem is solved if everyone decides to shut up. No awareness is raised if nobody speaks up. No help is sought if people are not sure who will be blamed by the end of a conversation – the victim or the person whose fault it truly was.  

The reason victims take so long to tell their story is because of the shame and guilt that society tends to impose on them, rather than the perpetrator. Know this, it is NEVER the victim’s fault. It is incredibly hard to come to terms with that. People who do not understand the issue for what it truly is propagate victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Don’t be that person.

For those of you who know me, know that I am not one to watch silently when someone makes unwelcome advances. But I do not expect everyone to do the same. People are different like that. Join forces in acknowledging that. Understand this could be happening to anyone around you, even if they are not voicing it out or reacting the way you would. Learn to break free from the shackles of being a bystander. If everyone acted in a timely manner, more lives can be shielded from the horrors of sexual abuse every year.

Let me end this post by stating very clearly that raising awareness is only a part of the issue that we, as individuals, can solve. Sexual misconduct is a widespread epidemic in our world, one we can’t get rid of until those responsible for it are punished for their misdeeds. Remember, the disease starts with the perpetrator, not the victim. 

So be aware of the problem. Acknowledge it. Understand it. Always make sure you act to protect the victim.