• Tarana Burke (left) created the #MeToo movement 10 years before Alyssa Milano brought it into the spotlight. (Getty Images)
What the #MeToo movement feels like for a survivor who isn’t ready to speak up.
By
Eowyn Putnam*

6 Feb 2018 - 9:35 AM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2018 - 11:18 AM

I am a woman. I am a daughter, a sister, a niece, a friend. I am a loving partner. I am a writer. I am an introvert. I am a human being. I am also a survivor of sexual assault.

My memories of the years I survived are stilted - my brain has collapsed it down into vague images, like a brief flip book of anguish. I was a child, single digits in age when it began, but I still blame myself for not remembering. And for not saying no. I won’t, and I can’t, go into detail. Not yet.

In 2017, the #MeToo movement jolted into mainstream culture. It began ten years before, created by an inspiring woman named Tarana Burke. Celebrities such as Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano brought Burke’s incomparable work into the global spotlight — and the world hasn’t looked back.

Women have come forward in droves to finally make their voices heard about their experiences surviving sexual assault, because they finally feel empowered to. They finally feel like they will have enough support when the storm hits and the waters become too rough to sail alone. Before #MeToo, women who accused men of assault were immediately assumed to be liars, sex-regretters, revenge-wanters, life-ruiners. But finally, finally, survivors felt safely able to say the three hardest words to say: I was raped.

Watching #MeToos happen all around you when you are a survivor feels like sitting in a tiny glass box, sitting precariously on a cliff. 

I was joyful when #MeToo hit. I felt this little spark of hope: maybe I could do it too. Maybe I could say my three words. Maybe I could even send him to jail. Maybe I could. Maybe.

But months on, I still can’t. Those three words have caused me more pain, more heartache, more hatred, more suicidal thoughts, and more anxiety than anything else. Those f**king bastard words still won’t come.

I’ve watched strangers and celebrities share their #MeToos, and I sobbed for them. I’ve watched friends share their #MeToos, and my heart simultaneously beamed with pride and felt the physical pain of true heartbreak. I felt jealous of their strength, while also relieved that my #MeToo was still safely inside my brain, where the only person it could hurt was me.

Watching #MeToos happen all around you when you are a survivor feels like sitting in a tiny glass box, sitting precariously on a cliff. I feel the overwhelming urge to bathe in the strength of these incredible survivors, and scream ‘me too’ at the top of my lungs. But I’m quickly reminded that shaking my glass cage with loudness might send me careening into the sea below. I would have no control over how I fall and the glass would violently smash on the rocks, and I am too scared of the pain to risk such a thing. “Silly girl,” I fear they’ll say. “Her own fault, really. Shouldn’t have shouted so loud.”

Or, I could shout my ‘me too’, so loud and so brave, and the strength of my sound might shatter the glass and I would stand tall on the cliff with fellow survivors and be free of the claustrophobic transparent prison that has held me since childhood. I’m not sure which would happen. I’ll never know until I’m ready to gamble my life and yell, but I’m not ready yet.

For those like me, whose words are still trapped in their throat, who remain unable to break their glass box — reading daily #MeToos is indescribably difficult.

But that doesn’t make being surrounded by #MeToo stories any easier. I don’t resent those saying them - in fact, I adore them and envy them. I wish I could hug every last one, and thank them for doing what I cannot. But for those like me, whose words are still trapped in their throat, who remain unable to break their glass box — reading daily #MeToos is indescribably difficult. It’s inescapable and it consumes you. Why aren’t I as strong, as brave, as fearless?

Since #MeToo began, my night terrors have come back. I’m trying to ask for help but my loved ones can’t hear me because my voice is a hoarse whisper and my rapist is dragging me away and no one will help me. I wake up thrashing in a cold sweat, my heart racing, and my partner tells me everything will be okay. I feel broken.

Sometimes I feel irrationally angry that I have to keep seeing #MeToos, because they send me into an emotional tailspin, and manifest into a physical panic attack that I have spent thousands of dollars on learning to control. I still can’t always control them. I feel furious at myself for feeling anger toward a fellow survivor. My mental health suffers. I feel tired.

People tell me to get off the internet, if it’s that difficult to read the #MeToos. I tell them that the internet is a fundamental part of my job, and I need my job to pay my bills, and they’re being reductive and it’s not that easy. I feel confused.

People tell me I would feel a lot better if I did come out and tell my #MeToo. I tell them I won’t.

Someone I trusted once told me that I don’t care about other women; that I was selfish for not going to the police and making sure my rapist was behind bars. I told them it’s not selfish to take your time to speak about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. They told me I enjoyed being sad too much. I don’t enjoy being sad. But I didn’t want to be a burden, so I tried to end my life that night. I feel angry I did that.

People tell me I would feel a lot better if I did come out and tell my #MeToo. I tell them I won’t. I tell them that worlds would shatter, that I would ruin innocent people’s lives. I tell them it’s not that simple. It probably is that simple, I suppose. I feel so sad.

I am a survivor, and my feelings during this time — this enormously positive time for people who have experienced sexual assault — are in constant conflict. You might be overwhelmed or discomfited. Me too. If you feel sad reading this, it’s okay. Me too. If you feel mad that one in five Australian women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, you should be. Me too. You might feel desperate to help, to do something to change that. Me too. And when I’m ready, I’ll have the strength to break my glass box and join the other voices, strong and fearless. #MeToo. 

*The author's name has been changed. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

If this story raises any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.

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