Reflection on the #MeToo Movement: What Can We Do as PR Professionals?
The Me Too Movement went viral with the #MeToo hashtag in the fall of 2017 that prompted men and women around the world to share their stories of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. #MeToo was started back in 2006 by social activist and organizer Tarana Burke. She started the campaign on MySpace to promote empowerment of women of color who were victims of abuse, specifically in less privileged communities. Alyssa Milano, a popular actress, drew attention to this movement when she used the hashtag on Twitter after the very first allegations that came out against prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein in October of 2017. What followed was a widespread movement of victims coming out with their stories and allegations through social media and news media, which outed various public figures in Hollywood.
After Milano made her tweet, the hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people in over 12 million posts on Facebook in the first 24 hours. The overwhelming participation in the #MeToo hashtag proved that this movement was not just a viral moment, and that Hollywood was not the only industry being exposed. Revelations of sexual harassment and abuse have also been made in the music industry, politics, academia and the sciences, organized religion, sports, military, college campuses and corporate environments.
It has been almost a year since the height of the #MeToo movement and it has not lost traction in 2018. Donald Trump’s presidency has been filled with controversial moments related to this movement, from the Access Hollywood tape, his alleged rape of his ex-wife Ivana, and now his defense of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in light of multiple sexual assault allegations during his confirmation hearings. As I am writing this, his first accuser, Dr. Christine Ford is telling her story on a national stage. It is clear that sexual assault and misconduct have touched every area of society, and has included people of all genders, ages, races, professions, and social statuses. We have seen the outpouring of stories from victims and their abusers over the last two years, but have we seen any change or consequences for these offenders?
In many of these accounts of sexual assault, harassment or violence, the abuser has been publicly shamed via the media, but only few have been held legally accountable for their actions. Harvey Weinstein, actor Bill Cosby, Olympic athletics doctor Larry Nassar, music producer Dr. Luke, Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and rapper 6ix9ine have seen criminal trials for their abuse, some of whom were eventually sentenced while some were left with a slap on the wrist and a dent on their reputation.
There have been celebrities, companies, organizations and fan bases that have publicly supported alleged abusers, despite statements and proof from their victims. Victim blaming and gaslighting are a prevalent response to many of these allegations, and is part of the reason victims fear reporting and telling the public what happened to them. Others have created a “cancelled” culture by removing their endorsement or support of any public figure the moment they are accused or called out for their behavior to hold them accountable.
I have felt very empowered and inspired by the #MeToo movement to use my voice for change. I have great respect for the individuals who have bravely shared their stories, despite enduring online hate, disbelief, and threats to their personal lives, in order to remove abusers from positions of power and protect others.
As a communications and public relations student, I have a commitment to being a truthful and ethical communicator. I feel it is important to believe victims and empower them to share their truth. It is important to pay attention. If as a society we continue to tolerate abhorrent behavior, we send the message that abuse is acceptable in the workplace and elsewhere. I believe we must hold each other accountable and speak up. As public relations professionals, it is our duty to give a voice to those who cannot speak. We have the ability to create influence on public opinion and perspective for the better by using our platforms and resources to make change. I choose not to defend or downplay the actions of individuals who create unsafe environments, violate and endanger the physical and mental health of others, and use their power or position to take advantage of people.
Looking to the future, I hope the many professional industries who have been affected and continue to be affected by this movement carry a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment, so we do not continue to say #MeToo.
This blog post was written by Olivia Rotondo, Vice President