Survivors speak up: 'Me Too'

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Dozens of east metro women and men have added their names to the ever-growing list of people typing two simple words with complex meaning on their social media: Me too.

The #MeToo trend took off after numerous sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein became public this month.

Survivors and victims, many of whom have never publicly spoken about the assault, violence or harassment they have faced, posted the words on Facebook or Twitter.

Stories of harassment on the street or catcalling, of inappropriate comments or groping from bosses, of emotional and physical abuse within relationships flooded social media beginning Oct. 15.

Diana McHenry of Woodbury had almost never told anyone her story until she posted her "me too" post last week.

"After posting I was so embarrassed and ashamed and I battled taking it down for the first hour," she said. "People started reaching out and sharing their stories, or showing support and it let me start to accept what happened. I was able to see that people don't think less of me and love me just as much as before, and that helped me start to heal from something that I buried deep down and never thought I would talk about."

McHenry started an activity outside of school when she was 8 years old, and started assisting the teenage coach after a couple years. She said the coach — who was in a relationship and had two children that she babysat — gave her a lot of attention and compliments for about a year. After that he shifted into emotional abuse and inappropriate touching. He raped her for the first time when she was 13 years old. He was nine years older than her.

"I always thought rape would be aggressive or violent," she said in an email. "But, in my instance it was a 13-year-old girl laying there, not really understanding what was happening."

This continued until he was jailed for an unrelated offense. He harassed her even from jail, calling her from behind bars when she was 15.

"I told him I didn't want to talk to him anymore and I found a boyfriend closer to my age," McHenry said. "He called me a slut and a whore and said I just toyed with his feelings and was a terrible person. I changed my number eventually and haven't talked to him since."

Though she had barely told people her story before, McHenry said the #MeToo movement inspired her to go public.

"I felt that there are many people who can't share their story and I wanted to share to represent them as well," she said in a message. "I felt empowered by the women in my life who shared and wanted them to feel like they weren't alone either. I wanted those going through it to know there is a way out and a bright future regardless of what happened."

David Lind's "me too" moment came long before the movement started. His own post was far from the first time Lind, of Cottage Grove, talked about Thomas Adamson abusing him in the 1970s when he was the priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Paul Park. In a 2014 deposition, Adamson admitted to abusing at least 10 boys during his ministry from the 1960s to the 1980s, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report.

Adamson would take kids to the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity to play basketball or take them swimming. Lind said he remembers being in the sauna with him, and when Adamson turns toward him, the memory goes dark.

"And then the tears flow when it turns black," he said.

Lind said he was also sexually assaulted by a person he was involved with later in life.

He blocked out the violence for a long time, but it surfaced in his memories about 10 years ago. Since then he's been grappling with this surfaced knowledge and PTSD from the trauma, in part by creating a play about sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

He won the lottery to perform his show called "Faith: From Anger into Trust and Hope" at the Minnesota Fringe Festival and posed for the Break the Silence photo project the week after.

"You could just see it with some of the audience members: they've been there and they appreciated that they had a voice," Lind said. "Somebody else's voice, but in that moment it was their voice."

"Why I tell my story, is I know there's more out there," he added. "And (maybe) telling my story gets someone the courage or awareness to do it too if they wanted."

Lind knows he's in the minority of those posting "me too," with most written by women, but he's hoping the movement remains open and supportive to any person who has been through sexual violence or harassment.

"If they were a victim or a survivor of sexual violence, they get to say 'me too.' ... I don't know what anybody else's experiences is; they can't know mine," Lind said.

'Listen. Believe. Be there.'

While the "me too" hashtag is a powerful statement that shows the volume of survivors, many also worry that it once again puts the burden on the victim rather than the perpetrator.

"The conversation always seems to be on the backs of survivors ... that's a lot of weight for them to carry," said Jess Teresi, sexual assault services program coordinator with the nonprofit organization 360 Communities. "It's not enough to force a social media movement on victims."

Teresi said she hopes the #MeToo movement can provoke change in one way or another.

"I think our responsibility is to figure out how to use this momentum," she said.

Activists should look to find new ways to engage with others, hold people accountable, and keep the movement and awareness going. One way is to be an ally and advocate for survivors, Teresi said.

"First and foremost, if anyone ever expresses that they've been a victim, stop yourself from the questions," she said. "Validate, and believe. Thank them for trusting you. People don't often realize how hard it is, to pick up a phone and tell someone."

From firsthand experience, Lind agrees that this kind of support is best.

"Listen. Believe them. Be there," Lind said. "Don't try to fix it. ... This person just needs to hear, 'We're here for you, just let us know what you need.'"

Teresi noted that the number of "me toos" showing up on their Facebook timelines or Twitter feeds doesn't tell the whole story.

"That is probably also happening: A lot of people (are) saying 'me too,' but a lot of people not feeling safe doing it," Teresi said.

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, 2,453 rapes were reported in 2016, and 4,312 other sex offenses were reported, making the crime rate for rape 42 per 100,000 people, and 74 other sex offenses per 100,000 people. Not all sexually violent crimes are reported, so numbers are likely greater.

Survivors can also get secondary trauma from seeing the posts, reading about the violence against others and seeing the constant influx of "me too" on their Facebook timeline.

"It's great that there's movement and talk, but social media just bombards you with stories," Teresi said. "... We need to pay attention to how 'me too' movements can trigger victims of sexual violence."

She noted that "it's OK to sign off, to ... walk away and take a breather."

RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has an online chat forum at www.rainn.org, and can connect survivors with resources closest to their location. Twin Cities area resources include the Sexual Violence Center, The HOPE Center and the Aurora Center in Minneapolis, and the Minnesota Day One Crisis Line to chat or call at www.dayoneservices.org or 1-866-223-1111. The 360 Communities sexual assault hotline is 651-405-1500 and more resources can be found at www.360communities.org.