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#IDidThat stokes debate as #MeToo spreads

October 19, 2017

Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström joined the #MeToo movement highlighting sexual violence against women, saying she was assaulted at an EU meeting. Will the campaign or responses like #IDidThat change how men behave?

Sexuelle Belästigung am Arbeitsplatz (picture-alliance/Frank May)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Frank May

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström shocked European social media late on Wednesday with just two words – "me too."

One of the most powerful women in the European Union was not only signaling to other victims that she had suffered sexual assault. She told the press later that it had occurred "at the highest political levels" during a meeting of European leaders.

Wallstöm joined prominent women in business and sports, including Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, who said she was groped by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, in declaring they were subjected to sexual abuse. The #MeToo movement started to by actress Alyssa Milano on Sunday to show how widespread sexual abuse has been for decades and go far beyond allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The 87-year-old actress Tippi Hedren, who has long maintained that Alfred Hitchcock assaulted her in the 1960s, also proclaimed her support of the campaign on Thursday to Sky News: "Keep it up! It's the only way it's going to stop."

"This sort of activity needs to be brought out," said Hedren, who has accused Hitchcock of abusing her after she rejected his sexual advances on the set of their classic film "The Birds."

Margot Wallstrom
Wallström said she would look at how politicians can "influence public opinion" about sexual harassmentImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Ericsson

Words are not enough

"These are brave women and girls around the world," Wallström told Swedish news agency TT of the thousands sharing their stories of abuse, "but I also think of this as a politician: What do we do? This type of call is not enough, it also has to lead to action."

Although Wallström may seem protected by her position of power, several studies into sexual dynamics in the workplace have pointed to women in management as at a higher risk for harassment. This is typically because they may be the only female in a male-dominated environment or because women in positions of authority are seen as gender non-conforming.

A 2012 report published by the American Sociological Review found that "targets are most likely to be females who threaten males' status," bosses and managers being one usual example.

Most abusers go unpunished

With victim blaming rampant and the unusual burden of proof placed on sexual assault plaintiffs, both female and male survivors say that are often either embarrassed away or discouraged from reporting the crime. According to a recent poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, 54 percent of American women have been sexually harassed or assaulted, with about 30 percent reporting that the perpetrator was a male colleague. Of those surveyed, 95 percent said their abuser went unpunished.

And in the European Union the situation isn't necessarily brighter. According to German women's rights organization Terre des Femmes, nearly one in seven women in Germany has been exposed to sexual violence. As for the workplace, a report from the Federal Labor Court found that a little over half of German women who work have experience sexual harassment or assault on the job.

According to a bloc-wide survey carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2014, the most likely scenario for women to be assaulted outside of intimate relationships is the workplace. In Sweden, for example, around 43 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment from colleagues — 99 percent of the perpetrators were male.

#IDidThat, #IDidIt call on perpetrators to speak

Critics of the #MeToo movement have pointed out that, like many other similar campaigns, it focuses on victims and does not engage with perpetrators or potential perpetrators to curtail abusive behavior.

To that end, one man in India has tried to start a mirror campaign, #IDidThat, to encourage former harassers and abusers to recognize and admit their behavior.

Devang Pathak, a writer and comedian, wrote about recognizing in a situation with a female acquaintance that "she was vulnerable and I had some kind of power." He then admitted to trying to take advantage of her before thinking better of it.

"I am sorry and I will do better. #IDidThat," he wrote. He then called for a change in the cultural paradigm that promotes abusive types of masculinity.

"Our culture fuels such implicit power relationships. Shows and movies tell men to 'go after' vulnerable women," Pathak added.

"#IDidThat and not a day goes by I don't regret it," another participant wrote on Twitter.

Many were disappointed that more men were not coming clean about their behavior or expected absolution for admitting to having committed a crime.

Others said such hashtags provide a jumping-off point to discuss the major problem of how society treats sexual assault – placing the burden on women to protect themselves, and not doing enough to teach young men how to act respectfully.

After seeing hundreds of thousands of people use the #MeToo hashtag, Milano also wondered what men would do to stop sexual assault.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.
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