Me too. And now what?

The following is a guest post from UMBC alumna Juliette Seymour, MCS and GWST ’14, who was both inspired and incensed by the recent “Me Too” campaign. Although this widespread social media initiative has shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence and assault in our communities, Juliette writes about follow-through and next steps. 

Content note: Sexual abuse, rape, trauma

Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too.

Me too.

It’s endless. I cannot count the number of the “Me too” Facebook status I have seen since Sunday night. If you are not on Facebook, to provide some backstory, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted (a co-opted message from activist, Tarana Burke):

Screen shot from Alyssa Milano’s twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Inset text reads: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women 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.”

Since then, my Facebook feed (and everyone else’s) has been nothing but “Me too’s.”

I posted one, deleted it. Then sat with a rock in my stomach. I’m used to this rock. It’s been with me since I was a child. This rock varies in size and weight, sometimes it’s small and manageable. Other times it’s large, growing past my stomach into my chest and throat making it nearly impossible for me to take deep breaths or speak. It’s grown as I have; the seemingly constant sexual abuse and rape that has happened throughout my life adding weight to this rock. You know this rock if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse/trauma. It sucks.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

I sat with this rock in my stomach for a while. My overactive mind weighing the pros and cons of this campaign (I don’t know if that is the proper term, but honestly, I’m not here to overanalyze that aspect). Should I repost? Why did I delete it? Why did I hesitate to post in the first place? Why did it feel wrong?

Then it clicked.

We’ve already stood up. We’ve already put a mark on our backs. We’ve already gone to the police to be dismissed. We’ve already sat through questioning from everyone, and I mean, everyone – how long was your skirt, did you drink, have you had sex before, why were you out at night, why did you let them, why didn’t you say no, have you had sex with them before, aren’t you married, why didn’t you fight back, didn’t you want it at first, why didn’t you say something sooner – to be told it was our fault. Even though it is never EVER our fault.

We’ve been through this motion before.

Think of all the people who have stood up and said “Hey, Bill Cosby/Woody Allen/Donald Trump/Harvey Weinstein/Sean Penn/Dr. Luke/My friend/My family/Your friend/Your family/etc., has raped/sexually abused me.”

What happened to the survivor? Now, what happened to the abuser in these situations? If you don’t already know the answer, take a moment, think about it. What happened to Trump? Cosby?

The answer is nothing. Nothing happened to them. Hell, one of them is sitting in the oval office.

Where are the Facebook statuses of abusers/rapist saying “I did it” so we can understand the severity of this? Where are my supposed ‘allied’ cis men standing up to their friends when they make rape jokes, or catcall? Or rape. When are we going to start holding abusers accountable? When are we going to refer to our brothers and fathers as rapists, instead of our sisters and mothers as victims? When are we going to ask why did you rape instead of why were you raped? When are we going to teach how not to rape instead of how not to get raped?

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

When are we going to actually listen to survivors? And then when are we going to do more than just…listen?

I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did.

But what I do have is this:

First, and most importantly –  If you posted a Me Too status, if you didn’t, if you don’t believe that your story is “real” enough, if you are not safe or comfortable enough to post; I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And I love you.

Second, and almost as important – Now what?

I’m not going to post a Facebook status, sit back, and pretend it did something. I’m not going to do that, and I’m asking you to do the same. And I know it hurts, it’s painful, uncomfortable, and seems impossible. Trust me. I know what it feels like to not be able to speak the things that happened to you (and very slowly getting to a point where you can kind of talk about it in therapy). I know what it feels like to be retraumatized with panic attacks and sleepless nights following. I know what it feels like to have to live with your abuser. I know what it feels like to question, “Was it rape? Was it my fault?” (and accepting that yes, it was rape, and no, it’s not my fault).

I know.

But, we have to be uncomfortable, we have to work through the pain, we have to support each other in our respective journeys to healing.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

So here is my action plan. To hold myself accountable, and to provide a possible road map for you. I do not know what your story is, how your healing will come, or what will happen. Hell, I don’t even know if my plan will work. But for right now, it’s all that I got:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. Delete Facebook off my phone (at least for a few days)
  3. Check-in with myself (you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first) and then friends
  4. Start volunteering with the Monument Quilt again (the studio is close to my house, and I made myself email them before finishing this post to ensure I followed through)
  5. Look into support groups for survivors

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I cannot stress this enough to my fellow survivors: This is in no way to shame or put down those who have found comfort/strength/healing through this hashtag Facebook thing (I still don’t know what to call it). I hope with all of my heart that this creates a sense of community, love, healing, and will do the thing it’s supposed to do. This is not directed towards those who find healing through these means, I’m happy you have that. I am SO happy you have that.

This is me wanting more from society. Not you.

And, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: ABUSE/RAPE HAPPENS ACROSS ALL GENDER LINES. WOMAN, MAN, TRANS, GENDERQUEER, NO GENDER, ALL GENDER. IT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE.

And, an important note on race: I am white. This is my white perspective. Race obviously plays a role in this. I do not feel adept to write about that. I do not want to assume/overpower or write for POC because their voices should be raised.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

 


  • For more information and resources related to sexual assault and gender-based violence, visit our website or contact the Women’s Center at 410.455.2714.
  • For more information about reporting at UMBC, the sexual misconduct policy, or Title IX, visit UMBC’s Human Relations website
  • The photos above are from the Monument Quilt. For more information, visit their website.

 

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Supporting survivors past April

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This past April was our most powerful yet. In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Women’s Center coordinated the annual Take Back the Night event, which 265 UMBC community members attended (click here for a photo round-up). The Clothesline Project reached another 183 people, and 10 new shirts were created by survivors of interpersonal violence.

 

 

The Women’s Center’s mission to support survivors extends beyond April. This year, the Women’s Center has trained 103 students, faculty, and staff in our supporting survivors workshops. Jess and Megan have also devoted over 25 hours of 1-1 support meetings for survivors and those dedicated to supporting them.

As this school year ends, please help us continue cultivating a survivor-responsive campus. We are only $450 away from making our 25th Anniversary GiveCorps goal for the 2016-2017 school year!
Give today and help a survivor access the support they need. 

Take Back The Night 2017 Roundup!

On April 13th 2017, UMBC hosted Take Back the Night. The night began with an introduction by the emcees and march leaders, Kayla and Sarah, and Women’s Center staff member, Amelia.

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

We then moved on to the march portion of the night where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

After the march, community members got together for some craftivism! This portion of the program is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community building.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors and a special thank you to all the volunteers who made TBTN possible!

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Photo Credit: Amelia Meman

If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

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Photo credit: Amelia Meman

What You Need to Know About Take Back The Night & Craftivism

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its fifth consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the fifth post in the series and it focuses on the last part of Take Back the Night which is craftivism and community building.

Hearing and sharing survivors’ stories of sexual violence can be empowering, challenging, and emotional. We know that people process their feelings in different ways, and so following survivor speak out and march, the event continues with Craftivism on Main Street. This portion of the program is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community building.

When the marchers return to Main Street, there will be tables set up with art supplies for anyone wishing to contribute to one of the community craft projects we’ll have available: the FORCE Monument Quilt, the Clothesline Project, and the Dear Survivor scrapbook. We also encourage attendees to check out the resource tables to learn more about various campus and community organizations and services.

A volunteer from FORCE will be present to assist anyone interested in making a quilt square for the Monument Quilt. The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of testimonials from survivors of sexual violence, as well as their allies. This national project will eventually blanket the National Mall with the phrase Not Alone. The quilt is a way to demand public space to heal, and create a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.

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A community member works on a Monument Quilt square.

All are welcome to add a page to our Dear Survivor scrapbook, which features messages of hope, healing, and solidarity from survivors and allies who have attended TBTN in past years. The scrapbook can be found in the Women’s Center lounge.

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The Dear Survivor scrapbook offers messages of healing and solidarity.

Materials for the Clothesline Project will be available for survivors who would like to give voice to their experience by decorating a shirt that will be displayed during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every April, these shirts are hung shoulder-to-shoulder on a clothesline on Main Street to give public testimony to the problems of sexual and gender-based violence. Please note that while allies are invited to participate in the Monument Quilt and Dear Survivor scrapbook, the Clothesline Project is intended for those who identify as survivors.

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TBTN attendees decorate T-shirts for the Clothesline Project.

For those who prefer a quieter space for reflection, there will be a self-care station set up in the commuter lounge available during the survivor speak out and the rest of the evening. There will be tissues, stress balls, coloring supplies, and other resources for self-care. The station also provides a more private space where attendees can speak with one of the counselors on call, if needed.

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Tissues, coloring, and other self-care resources will be available in the self-care station during and after the speak out.

For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Dear Survivor

This guest post was written by a UMBC community member who has asked to remain anonymous to allow for privacy while sharing this important experience. 

***Content Note: This post contains detailed descriptions of physical threats and sexual violence, and mentions of suicidal ideation. Please practice self-care while reading.*** 

Dear Survivor,

I would like to tell you my story of survival. I think that maybe, just maybe, it could provide you with something that will be helpful. I hope that it will. As a survivor myself, I know that lots of people have reacted to me in ways that minimized my experience, or, in contrast, made my experience into the thing that defined me. Both felt like shit. Both made me feel trapped.

I don’t want to do that to you. Instead, I want to show you a path to a future in which your survival matters, but the specific things you have survived are just a distant footnote in your memory.

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Dear Survivor letters created at UMBC’s Take Back the Night offer messages of solidarity.

I want to tell you some details about my story. It happened 25 years ago.

Continue reading

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Greek Week’s Partnership

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 5th consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the fourth post in the series and it focuses on the Take Back the Night’s partnership with Greek Week.

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UMBC’s Fraternity & Sorority Community has been involved with Take Back the Night since 2013 when TBTN returned to campus.  We know there are some questions about that involvement, and we’re hoping we can answer them here.

The History – Susan DuMont, Former Coordinator for Fraternities & Sororities, 2010-2015

I was on the Women’s Center Board when the conversation started about bringing TBTN back to UMBC, and I was really excited to be a part of the planning and figuring out what TBTN at UMBC could look like.

That spring when all of the chapters sat down to plan Greek Week, we realized that TBTN was in the middle of Greek Week.  I said that it was important to me that we not plan anything at the same time, so they could either have a Greek Week event earlier in the day or we could incorporate TBTN into Greek Week itself.  I explained what TBTN was, and the chapters decided that they wanted to actively support it.

For sorority members, TBTN is an important opportunity to support all of the survivors and for survivors to give voice to personal experiences with sexual assault.  Every year, including the first, a large number of sorority women have shared their stories from the microphone.  For the men in the community, TBTN was similarly an opportunity to support survivors, but it has also been a chance to witness and participate in a conversation that they are rarely so intimately included in.  Attending TBTN has allowed them to better grasp the magnitude of the prevalence and severity of sexual assault and how personal and important the issue is to their community.  In the second year of TBTN, two fraternity men also spoke as survivors.

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Today – Cory Bosco, Coordinator for Fraternities & Sororities

Fraternities and sororities are organizations based on the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood – relationships that go much further than just friendship.  I have seen the expression of relief and gratefulness when survivors step away from the mic and are embraced by their sisters or their brothers.  Our chapters participate in TBTN because sexual assault affects this campus and our community, and our members want to be part of ending sexual violence.  We attend TBTN because we want to actively change the reality of sexual assault and show that UMBC’s Fraternity & Sorority community is here to be an ally.

Every year we revisit the conversation about whether TBTN should be included in Greek Week, and if so, how to include it in a way that is respectful to the event.  While Greek Week is a chance to celebrate the community and is a fun and competitive experience, it is also a chance to celebrate what the UMBC Fraternity & Sorority Community is about beyond the fun – and that includes a deep commitment to supporting each other as family and a commitment to social justice that is both historical and ongoing. 

There is a misconception that chapters are “required” to attend TBTN.  That is entirely false.  While it is part of Greek Week, chapters “max out” their Greek Week “opportunity” from the program by having a very, very small percentage of their chapter attend comparatively .  What you actually witness, though, is a huge turnout from the majority of chapters regardless of points earned.  The event is part of Greek Week because it is important to chapters, rather than being important to chapters because it is part of Greek Week. 

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2017! 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Why We March

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 5th consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the third post in the series and it focuses on the evening’s campus march against sexual violence.

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1,2,3,4 WE WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

 5,6,7,8 NO MORE VIOLENCE! NO MORE HATE!

As a survivor of sexual assault, the Take Back The Night march reminds me that I’m not alone.

Mariana De Matos Medeiros, a UMBC Alumnus and former student staff member at the Women’s Center, said “To me, having the opportunity to speak and march at TBTN last year reminded me that I am not alone and that I can stand in my power to speak about my experience. It took me 3 years to finally speak about my assault and one of the very first times was at TBTN last year. Seeing so many gathered to support allowed me to speak and speaking has allowed me to heal.

It can be easy to blame yourself, isolate yourself, and feel like you’re the only person struggling with your healing; However, the march lets you connect with people who support you and believe you.

Sarah Lilly, a 2016 and 2017 Take Back The Night student leader says “Marching is us showing that solidarity is a verb, and it brings me great pride to feel so supported by my local UMBC community and to see the unconditional support for everyone else in our community.”

In an open letter in her school’s newspaper, survivor and student activist, Angie Epifano, recounted the aftermath of her sexual assault, namely her experience with institutional betrayal. She ended the letter with, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.” Due to rape culture, victim blaming, a lack of support for survivors, and more, it is understandable that many survivors do not disclose their experience and sexual assault is rarely spoke of in public.

Much like the Baltimore-based Monument Quilt is creating and demanding public space for survivors to heal, Take Back the Night demands for space in which we will not be shamed into silence. Activists like Angie, the Monument Quilt creators, and YOU during the march are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.

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Here’s some helpful information about the campus march against sexual violence to those attending Take Back the Night at UMBC: 

  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence but the march is for EVERYONE to GET LOUD! 
  • We encourage individuals and groups to make rally signs ahead of time. Signs are a great way to show your solidarity and support while also representing your student orgs, res hall communities, and frats/sororities.
  • We’ll line everyone up in the march in waves. Survivors wanting to march up front with other survivors are invited to line up first along with other community members needed to take an accessible route march. Everyone else will then line up as survivors begin to march towards the south exit of The Commons.
  • As we march, walk slowly and stay together. Try to avoid large gaps in the line.
  • The march will end back on Main Street where the space will be ready for the evening’s resource fair and craftivism. As you’re heading back into The Commons, come all the way into Main Street so everyone else behind you can get into the space as well.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.
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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2017!