If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

What then? As someone who has survived these things, it took me a little bit of time to process what happens next, and then I realized that it’s nothing we haven’t said or heard before, but maybe, just maybe, if people see #MeToo showing up everywhere, some of these things might make a little more sense. And then I thought about all of the people who are staying quiet– and I cannot blame them because I have been quiet for a long, long time.

We need to remove the words “friend zone” from our vocabulary; the assumption that because one party is kind to another, then they are entitled to some sort of sexual reward is beyond ridiculous. If someone is a friend in order to gain sexual attention, they are not your friend.

Our schools, youth groups, and Churches need to remove ridiculous dress code restrictions on girls; claiming that boys “cannot control themselves” if they see a bra strap is a dangerous language for both parties involved. Boys are given unspoken permission to not control themselves should a girl step out of line in her dress. This radiates outward; when someone talks about being assaulted, harassed, or raped, the questions are: what kind of person is she? How was she dressed? Is she a slut? (The concept that dress allows “permissible violence” against another expands beyond gender, of course).

Dress doesn’t matter, because harassment, assault, and rape happen everywhere and anywhere. A boss may think it’s allowable to place his hands on you because he pays your paycheck. It is not. A teammate may think it is acceptable to “playfully” smack your bottom. It is not. The parent of one of your friends may think it is acceptable to tower over you while delivering thinly-veiled threats and insults. It is not. Making jokes about sexual violence in any arena is not okay; the numbers are staggering, and there are countless untold tales.

Like mine.

And I will not drag you through the mire of what my stories involve; it is not the point. And yes, I do say STORIES— indeed, I don’t know a single woman who has been touched without permission, been aggressively manipulated in some way, or had someone make a lewd comment that made her uncomfortable and afraid. I know men who have been victim to the same crimes. And these things happen frequently in the lives of women— we all have our stories.

And so, so many of us have shame-filled stories that have not yet touched the world, because if someone was to know about them, we would come undone. We would feel ruined. And that is precisely the problem. We have created a culture where individuals feel weak for being victims of sexual violence. We have created a culture where speaking up will make your life harder, because no one will believe you and a stigma will follow you everywhere you go, to the ends of the earth and back.

We don’t tell our stories because the very institutions that failed us would look down on us. Why couldn’t you be more pure? Why couldn’t you have been stronger? More knowledgeable? Why did you wear those jeans? Why would you lead him on? Why would you show that kindness if you didn’t mean it? When really, the only question anyone wants to hear is, “What can I do for you?”, and frankly, the answer will likely be “just be here.” Your friend just needs to know that you won’t tell her story, that you won’t use it as a weapon against him, that you won’t betray her trust, that you won’t ever speak of it again unless he brings it up.

No one deserves to hear your story unless you are willing to tell it, but it is not something to be ashamed of. If anything makes you feel less alone and more brave, it just might be the hundreds and thousands of people rising up and saying “ME TOO”.

Perhaps one day I will tell my story, but the truth is, I am still afraid. Writing even these generic ideas puts a quake into my hands. For now, just know that you are not alone, and whatever happened to you is nothing that you deserved. You deserve light. You deserve hope. You deserve love. So whether or not you want to join the #MeToo movement that is sweeping social media, know that you are not alone.

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