Why the words “believe women” are personal

Posted by Barbara Ntumy on

CN: Sexual assault and harrasement
By now we have all heard about #MeToo, a campaign started by Tanya Burke over a decade ago. This simple and yet powerful statement, seeks to highlight how sexual assault and harassment are a common experience in the lives of women and girls across cultures and backgrounds.
The statement gained momentum when The New York Times and The New Yorker published accounts detailing multiple accusations against Hollywood studio executive Harvey Weinstein. Whilst it was ‘shocking’, according to mainstream media outlets, it soon became clear that this was a common experience for many in Hollywood - and women not in Hollywood. In the days and weeks that followed the breaking of the story, numerous allegations from actors, musicians and other entertainers against powerful men in the industry came to the fore. Notably, Terry Crews accused a Hollywood executive of sexual assault.
Tanya’s phrase, me too” (that I had not heard of until the Weinstein allegations surfaced) resonated with me. My #MeToo moment happened when I was 17. I was sexually assaulted by the pastor of my church. For weeks I was haunted and deeply terrified by the experience and would even cry myself to sleep. When I finally found the words and courage to speak out, I was not believed. I was called an attention seeker and told that lying about a “man of God” was going to have serious spiritual repercussions on my family and I. The women I affectionately called ‘auntie’ did not believe me. They called me a ‘fast girl’ because I had been seen with boys in town and my mum had found contraception pills in my bag. Therefore I was suspected of being sexually active.
I didn’t have the courage to tell my mum what happened and after the reaction of my ‘aunties’, I was convinced my mum wouldn’t believe me either. My ‘aunties’ didn’t bother to tell my mother either and with some ‘elders’ of the church went to confront the pastor. By some miracle, he actually admitted to assaulting me and claimed the devil made him do it. I was then forced to sit in room with him whilst he made excuses and delivered an awful apology, which I was made to accept by the men and women in my church community. Eventually my mum found out and did believe me when I told her what happened. However I did not seek help to deal with the trauma until I went to university and accessed counselling. Political activism also helped me channel the helplessness I felt into making a positive change. 
With Weinstein chargedBill Cosby found guilty and more victims of R Kelly speaking out about his alleged abuse and grooming of young girls, it is clear that this era of speaking out against those who abuse their power and commit sexual crimes is showing no signs of slowing down. However it has been really difficult to see that some of the commentary surrounding this watershed moment implies accusations against high profile black figures are either racially or financially motivated. A troubling narrative that seeks to silence victims is still very much there and the accusations by some that white people are conspiring with black women to take down black men is vile, but not surprising. 
Subsequently those in the film, television and theatre industries have launched Times Up, “an organisation that insists on safe, fair and dignified work for women of all kinds.” Recognising the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault mostly experienced by women from all walks of life and in all kinds of workplaces is an important starting point. Hopefully we are on the road to meaningfully addressing the levels of misogyny and the power imbalance that have allowed perpetrators to get away with their crimes for so long.
Inspired by the current conversations and the bravery of the many women speaking up, we’ve put together our believe women collection to add to the conversation, help shift the culture of sexism and misogyny by boldly declaring enough is enough on everyday apparel, and - echoing the words of Oprah in her mesmerising Golden Globes speech - march towards a new day dawning in which nobody ever has to say ‘Me Too’ again.
If you are a survivor or want to help someone who has experienced sexual assault find details of organisations below.
Rape Crises England & Wales
Women and Girls Network

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