Students reflect on #MeToo movement’s underrepresented survivors


#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke speaks to audience members at Plachta Auditorium Sept. 17.

The #MeToo movement has sparked nationwide dialogue and empowerment for sexual harassment and assault survivors since it entered the spotlight in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in Oct. 2017. 

However, before white actresses made #MeToo go viral, social justice activist Tarana Burke started the movement to support women of color who’d survived sexual violence.

 If you have been affected by sexual violence, you are not alone. Free, confidential help is available.

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When Burke spoke Monday as a part of Central Michigan University's Speaker Series in Plachta Auditorium, students reflected on how the movement she began in 2006 can provide support to survivors within different social groups in the future.

Jordan X. Evans, a graduate student from Lansing involved with Black Lives Matter Lansing, emphasized that the current movement needs to “recenter” around women of color and other marginalized groups.

“Women of color have acts of violence perpetrated against them and have been ignored and pushed to the back,” he said. 

In the context of a university, "recentering" would mean systemic changes and more active promotion of diversity instead of only a few diversity offices, Evans said.

“It’s a slow steady fight because we’re fighting against everything society is,” Evans said.

Imlay City junior Cassie Malhado, noted the movement needs to consciously include male survivors in the conversation. Malhado has fought sexual assault and domestic violence with her sorority Alpha Chi Omega, which has fund-raised for Women’s Aid Service and has partnered with other sororities to provide sexual assault education.

“It tends to be thought of as a female issue only,” Malhado said. “And that is definitely not the case.”

Malhado is right: male survivor organization 1in6 cites multiple studies that show roughly one in six boys are sexually assaulted before turning 18. 

That’s not counting adult men. 

One in 10 rape victims is male, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). But that number could be higher. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey of 40,000 households found 38 percent of reported sexual violence was against men.

“We expect men to be tough,” Malhado said. “That is a big reason why it doesn’t necessarily come to light and I think we really need a spokesperson to come forward for (male survivors).”

The LGBTQ community is another underrepresented group in sexual violence discussions. Transgender people are at particular risk. 

According to RAINN, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming college students have experienced sexual assault — compared to 18 percent for cisgender female students.

A big part of the problem is fetishization of LGBTQ people, said Manistique sophomore Allison Casey.

Casey said they’ve often experienced fetishization due to their orientation as a person who identifies as non-binary and bisexual. That fetishization is particularly common for transgender women, Casey said.

Higher rates of homelessness, poverty, healthcare inequality and other problems often put LGBTQ people in positions of lower power, Casey said.

This objectification and lack of power can create a deadly combination.

“People in positions of power have less of a reason to see us as people and therefore are more likely to take advantage,” Casey said.

Still, Casey sees hope for the future.

“It’s really nice," Casey said, "to see a broad nationwide, worldwide effort to have solidarity with each other."