More than ten years ago activist Tarana Burke created a hashtag, #metoo, with the goal of helping survivors of sexual violence and harassment find solidarity, to know they are not alone. (Please read more about Ms Burke’s work in this article from CNN and you can follow her on Twitter at @TaranaBurke).
Over this past weekend, in response to allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag went viral and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms were swimming with #metoo posts. The idea was that everyone who had experienced sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination, rape, and other forms of violence should put this on their status to draw attention to the scope, the reality of the problem.
As with all things, the controversy started immediately. What should have been a movement for survivors to break their silence, to tell their own stories, to feel as if they were not alone in the world dealing with the repercussions of someone else’s actions, turned into a debate about who was allowed to use the hashtag (could men who have been harassed/abused also participate?), and more.
Some people were unprepared, shocked to discover that folks they know and love had experienced this violation. They were overwhelmed to discover that nearly every woman they know has a story.
Some were jerks, claiming people were only doing this to get attention, and contributing to rape culture by saying that if women would only dress modestly, or behave themselves, or not put themselves in dangerous situations then it wouldn’t happen. Mr Eric Trump even went so far as to say that if a woman can’t handle the harassment, she “doesn’t belong in the workforce”. (See reference here).
And for survivors, it was a mixed reaction. Some people were able to immediately embrace the hashtag and publicly claiming their story. Others were afraid, and rightly so, because of the public risk of being outed as a survivor, of the repercussions where they work, and with their family and friends. Some, myself included, felt a bit guilty or shamed if we didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon and tag ourselves #metoo (and sadly there was more than a bit of shaming of those of us who didn’t make a post, including one person who told me I was “betraying the sisterhood of survivors” by not participating).
There was a lot of ranking of experiences with survivors saying “well it wasn’t that bad” or “my friend had it worse” and “it didn’t matter too much”, all ways we’ve learned to normalize predatory behaviors as part of our everyday life. (For what it’s worth, this isn’t the oppression Olympics … your experience didn’t have to end you up in the hospital for it to be valid, and it’s not a competition on who had it worse. None of us should have to have experienced what we did. Period.)
And then just about every survivor I know was somehow triggered by the posts, their own stories brought back to them in fear, memories we thought we had safely stored away dragged back without any warning on a random Sunday in October, causing us to lose sleep, relive our worst moments, and question everything all over again.
Amid all of this there has been some commentary from church communities. I thank the UCC’s general minister and president, the Rev John Dorhauer, for the words in his blog Into The Mystic.
But, it also brought up something that had been stirring in my mind long before #metoo made it into everyone’s consciousnesses – that clergy need something to say, to have a statement they can post on their Facebook pages, on their church websites, outside their office doors, or wherever they can to make sure survivors know they are someone committed to hearing their stories with dignity, and respect. We needed a Break The Silence Sunday promise from the clergy, a few well chosen sentences that would be our promise – to survivors, to God, and to ourselves – that we will wade into the hard work or honoring survivors, of listening, and of believing.
With the help of some good friends I’ve wrestled this week with the words. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s a place to start. I’m including it here, in full, and also a link to a PDF form of the document here: BTSS Clergy Commitment
If you choose to use it, I would appreciate you letting me know how and where you’re using it. If you choose to adapt it, particularly significantly, please check with me in advance. If you have ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions, or criticisms about how it could be better in its next version please let me know that too. You can send me messages on Facebook or an email here.
Break The Silence Sunday Clergy Commitment
As a Christian pastor, as someone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, and as a human being committed to working for the dignity and equality of all people, I declare to survivors of sexual violence that:
- I am a person to whom you can tell your story of sexual abuse, harassment, assault, violence, and more.
- I will listen without judgement, and without condemnation.
- I will hold all you tell me in sacred confidence, within the bounds of law.
- I will listen to whatever you need to say, and however you need to say it.
- I will honor your story, and remind you of the dignity and worth you have as a child of God, created in God’s own image, and I will remind you that you are more than your story.
- I will walk beside you on your healing journey, accompanying you as best as I am able, and as you need to counseling appointments, court dates, or wherever else you need me to be with you.
- I am here for you, and with you.
- I stand with you.
- I believe you.
© Break The Silence Sunday, the Rev Moira Finley, October 2017