The original #MeToo campaign aimed to support survivors of sexual violence who were marginalized. Now it’s time to speak out for women suffering in silence
2017 will be remembered as the year of #MeToo, a watershed moment when women came together to support each other in breaking their silence about sexual harassment and assault. When we learned Time magazine chose “the Silence Breakers” for Person of the Year, we were proud to know we helped convey a message as simple as it is profound: you are not alone. Sexual abuse is nothing new, but the sheer number of brave women who have dared to publicly share our most painful experiences of assault and harassment represent a groundswell, with new voices coming forward every day. It is a true reckoning.
And it’s a reckoning that cannot be solely for Americans. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Nor can this moment in history belong solely to the Silence Breakers who have the opportunity to speak out. We all must speak out for those who can’t – for the girls and women who suffer in silence. Like the mostly hidden woman on Time’s cover, described as “an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas who fears disclosing her identity”.
This is why we have joined forces with Unicef USA to say: #HerToo.
Unicef’s recent report A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents offers sobering statistics about the state of violence against women and girls around the world. Globally, 90% of adolescent girls who have been sexually abused know their attacker. Fifteen million adolescent girls worldwide between age 15 and 19 have experienced rape or other sexual abuse. Nine million girls have experienced sexual abuse in just the past year. Only 1% of them reached out for help.
#HerToo is about our deepest desire to ensure the dignity of every woman and girl is honored.
Tarana Burke’s original “Me, Too” campaign, launched in 2007, aimed to provide support to survivors of sexual violence who were marginalized, poor, underrepresented and without a network or community to protect them. This overwhelmingly meant it focused on women and girls of color who lacked support and resources. Alyssa’s #MeToo tweet in October more than hit a nerve – it helped launch a new solidarity among millions of women who increasingly, urgently shared their infuriating, devastating accounts of sexual violence and harassment.
Except those that didn’t. For every woman and girl who has been empowered to say #MeToo – #YoTambien, #BalanceTonPorc – countless others are too afraid to break their silence. They fear denial, shame, punishment, blame, further violence and retaliation against them or their families.
So, for Esther, 19, who was kidnapped from her home in Nigeria by Boko Haram militants and sold to one of the leaders as a sex slave, we say #HerToo. For Alice, 18, in Portugal, whose boyfriend shoved, slapped, grabbed and verbally abused her because he said she wasn’t spending enough time with him. #HerToo. For Jada, 16, in the US, who was drugged and raped and then made to endure the picture of her naked and unconscious body becoming an internet meme. #HerToo.
We pledge to build on the power and solidarity of #MeToo to embrace #HerToo. Esther, Alice and Jada: you are not alone.
#HerToo is about our deepest desire to ensure the dignity of every woman and girl is honored. It’s about our personal dedication to building a culture of respect where it is sorely lacking. It is about Unicef’s work – work we all must undertake – to end discrimination and violence against girls and women – and against all children suffering violence and harassment – worldwide, through education, protection and policy reform.
When girls grow up in safety and dignity, they have the power to live up to their full potential. Equipped with the right resources, today’s girls can become leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers. When we speak up to protect the rights of girls and women, we are not only preventing their suffering – we are protecting our shared future.
When all girls do better, we all do better.