After the New York Times and New Yorker published shocking reports of decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last October, actress and activist Alyssa Milano shared a simple hashtag, #MeToo, on Twitter.
Inspired by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, Milano asked women to share their encounters with sexual harassment in the workplace and to speak out against such abuses and the response was overwhelming.
On Friday, Milano did it again, this time sharing that she had been sexually assaulted twice in the past, but never filed a police report and waited 30 years to tell her parents. She invited others to share their reasons for choosing not to report sexual assault and harassment with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
In the few hours since the actress invited sexual assault survivors to break their silence on Friday, hundreds of people — both women and men — have already responded.
Milano’s original tweet addressed recent comments from President Donald Trump, who posted on Twitter Friday morning defending his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, against whom sexual assault allegations have recently come to light.
In a letter a senior Democratic lawmaker sent earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology, said Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her three decades ago when they were both high school students. As news of the letter and its contents broke, Ford decided to speak to the Washington Post about the traumatic experience.
In the article, published Sunday, Ford said she had feared for her life during the incident and did not tell anyone about it until 2012, while attending couples’ therapy with her husband.
Trump argued on Twitter that if “the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
But the stories of the hundreds of people now sharing #WhyIDidntReport on Twitter show it’s not always that easy — or safe — for survivors to report sexual assault.
Several people said they didn’t report being sexually assaulted or raped because they were afraid, ashamed, or blamed themselves. Others said they did not tell anyone they were abused or file reports because the perpetrators were family members.
The first time I ever spoke about my assault publicly was after the #MeToo movement. Most women don’t report their assault because of fear. But after so many brave women shared their stories I felt safe enough to come forward.— Linsey Godfrey (@linseygodfrey) September 21, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport. The first time it happened, I was 7. I told the first adults I came upon. They said “Oh, he’s a nice old man, that’s not what he meant.” So when I was raped at 15, I only told my diary. When an adult read it, she accused me of having sex with an adult man.— ashley judd (@AshleyJudd) September 21, 2018
“He told me no one would ever believe me, he did nothing wrong,” one survivor said in a tweet. “I did finally go to the police. They acknowledged what he was doing was wrong and they did nothing.”
Dozens said they did not report incidents for fear of jeopardizing their careers or being disbelieved.
I was sexually harassed and was told if I spoke up it would hinder me working. When U believe “grabbing women by the pussy” is locker room talk your opinion doesn’t matter @realDonaldTrump— Jennifer Esposito (@JennifersWayJE) September 21, 2018
I was 17. Raped by a friend. I was confused. In denial. Afraid. His parents were richer & better connected than my parents. He was a "good" student. Ppl liked him. The only friend I told--responded w: "He wld never do that." I didn't think anyone would help me. #WhyIDidntReporthttps://t.co/YbCuIMg07M— Abigail Hauslohner (@ahauslohner) September 21, 2018
Another survivor said she was raped twice — once around the time of the sexual misconduct scandal involving President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky and again around the time that Anita Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment.
“I didn't report because I saw what happened to those two women and I wasn't strong enough at the time to endure it,” the woman wrote on Twitter.
Many said they attempted to report abuse, but were pressured into recanting or flat out dismissed. Ford herself has received death threats since breaking her silence.
“I did go to the police. In Iowa,” one woman shared on Twitter. “Cops snickered at me because my clothes were ripped and make up was running down my face. I didn’t feel safe. I asked to speak to a woman. They said there weren’t any.”
Because I didn't want to admit what happened, even to myself. #WhyIDidntReport— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 21, 2018
The wave of heartbreaking stories has been met with an equally emotional outpouring of support and encouragement for survivors. And yet as some have pointed out, those speaking out represent only a fraction of people who have such stories to tell.
The #WhyIDidntReport tweets are powerful, but please understand that those are only coming from people comfortable about talking about what happened to them in some way. There are many people who are still silent. This represents just a portion of the problem we face as a society— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) September 21, 2018
Just 30% of sexual assault incidents in the US are reported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
One in five survivors of sexual violence chooses not to file a report against their abuser for fear of retaliation. And while sexual violence can occur in any community, people from low-income communities and women are disportionately the victims of such abuse.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org. You can find international resources here.