Over the past year and a half, the #MeToo movement, with decades of anti-rape activism behind it, has elevated the public consciousness around sexual assault. Society’s most elite, powerful men in Hollywood, in business and in politics, are being called to account for their actions. Never before has sexual violence been discussed on such an expansive platform. Still, this reckoning has been relegated to the most prestigious, leaving the plight of everyday Americans and especially those most marginalized, out of the conversation.
With the grassroots organizing around the 2020 presidential election looming, there is an opportunity to hold national and local leaders responsible for supporting those impacted by sexual violence.
With the grassroots organizing around the 2020 presidential election looming, there is an opportunity to hold national and local leaders responsible for supporting those impacted by sexual violence. To do so, advocates need to connect the dots for political leaders: sexual violence is not a single issue, it is all encompassing.
With the issue of economic inequality, for example, those who make low wages, have little benefits and live paycheck to paycheck, are the most vulnerable to abuse by their bosses, coworkers, or even landlords. Their lack of economic power means they are more likely to stay in a workplace where they are sexually harassed or abused—in order to survive. Complicating this power imbalance further is immigration status, which can cause many to stay silent in fear of deportation. In looking closer at immigration, sexual abuse at the border extends well beyond violence amongst migrants and the people hired to bring them to the United States; there have been documented cases of sexual assault committed by Border Patrol agents.
Moreover, access to healthcare for survivors of sexual violence is critical, as the physical and mental health repercussions of trauma can last a lifetime. Inevitably, sexual violence intersects with the healthcare system and is a necessary part of the conversation in creating fair and equitable policies.
The gun violence debate—in which arguments regularly center around the rights protected by the Second Amendment and mental health—is also a violence against women issue. Women and girls are often the victims of gun violence and the people who tend to commit mass shootings, more frequently than not, have a history of sexually abusing women.
When 2020 presidential candidates run on these issues, it is crucial to question them on how the survivors of sexual violence are directly impacted by their platform. Advocating for the accountability of political leaders on the national stage can set the tone for candidates across the country, but most importantly, local candidates in both blue and red counties.
Many organizations rightly focus on influencing sexual violence policy at the national level, where most of the legislation following #MeToo has come out of. (Although, a number of state legislatures have revamped their own policies for responding to sexual harassment). However, there is little advocacy or legislating to impact local sexual violence policy.
In reality, it is local policies that most impact survivors. These policies are typically carried out by law enforcement, public hospitals, and other government agencies that are part of a Sexual Assault Response Team.
In reality, it is local policies that most impact survivors. These policies are typically carried out by law enforcement, public hospitals, and other government agencies that are part of a Sexual Assault Response Team. The process for accessing a sexual assault forensic examination and other free medical services, for example, is dictated by local policy.
This past year cities like San Francisco and Salt Lake City faced justifiable scrutiny for their policies and mishandling of sexual assault cases. Without advocacy at this level, survivors will continue to face barriers in receiving an array of services following their assault. It is time for #MeToo movement leaders and anti-violence advocacy groups to turn their sights on localities—to call on city officials to develop sound, survivor-centered policies that respond to and prevent, sexual violence.
To keep up the momentum of the #MeToo movement in 2019, the discussion around sexual violence can no longer be siloed. To capitalize on #MeToo, policy responses must be broadened to include the local level. In this way, the movement can live long past its hashtag.