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Give To The Max

Faribault’s Hope Center is participating in GIVE TO THE MAX DAY! If you would like to donate to the Hope Center please click on the button on the right and follow the directions. Your support is greatly appreciated.

The Official Hope Center Blog

Give To the Max Day!!

Today is Give to the Max Day and non-profits around Minnesota gather to share more about their non-profits and to ask for support for the cause that is near and dear to their heart.

Here is more information about how you can help this year.  Post on your FB page, help share the word, this year more than ever we need your support so we can continue to provide HOPE.

Your donation helps to make HOPE possible!

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Learning More: Tonic Immobility

In this 4th and final installment of Learning More about Tonic Immobility, we wanted to share this webinar that HOPE Center hosted with Britta Koenen.  We hope it is helpful and you find the information insightful and healing.

Please share this webinar widely.

The more people who understand tonic immobility, who understand how and why this is a common, involuntary response to Sexual Assault, the more we can dramatically reduce the shame and stigma felt by survivors who wished they would have “fought back” or responded differently during their assault and can help survivors move further on the path of wholeness and healing.

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Learning More: Tonic Immobility Part 3

In our final installment of our Tonic Immobility series, we will look at what you can do to help share this information, and how to respond when someone shares their experience with you.

Flowers TI

“I felt paralyzed”: breaking down a sexual assault reaction (Part 3)

Welcome back! In Part 1, we talked about a reaction that can happen during sexual assault called tonic immobility. Basically, this is a state of temporary paralysis where you’re fully conscious but you can’t move, yell, or feel pain. It’s induced by two things: extreme fear and either physical restraint or just the perception of being trapped. Last time, we learned that tonic immobility is a very prevalent reaction during sexual trauma, and that it’s strongly connected to several negative consequences for survivors like PTSD or self-blame for the assault. Today, we’ll talk through how you can use everything you’ve learned to create a more positive healing environment for survivors.


We’re learning more and more how common tonic immobility is in sexual assault cases, and how strongly it’s linked to negative survivor outcomes. What’s more, not many people outside of the research community know about this phenomenon, which brings another set of negative outcomes. Survivors who have been through this may feel deeply ashamed that they couldn’t control their body or resist the assault. There may be stigma from the public, with questions like “why didn’t you fight back?”. Police or juries may look for signs of resistance as compelling evidence that there was actually a sexual assault. But you cannot resist or fight back during tonic immobility; that DOES NOT mean there was no sexual assault. Experts have expressed that more public knowledge about tonic immobility would be highly beneficial in mitigating these problems. It’s our responsibility to lessen the burden of shame on survivors and validate their healing process—which means we should all dig deeper into this issue and keep talking about it. Sharing these posts can be a great first step to sparking more discussion.

Navigating conversations about sexual assault is already difficult, and understandably so. Having a “toolkit” of talking points prepared ahead of time can help make this easier and more approachable. Some of the most important pieces to bring to these conversations are empathy and validation for survivors. We must remember that there is no “normal” or “right” way to react to sexual assault. During traumatic events, the logic center of the brain is turned off and the alarm system is turned on—any reaction during that moment is an effort to survive that trauma. Sometimes this means resisting the person violating you. Sometimes this means feigning enjoyment of the assault. Sometimes this means your body becomes locked up. There are many different paths to getting through a sexual assault, and they are ALL valid.

The following reminders are written with a tonic immobility reaction in mind, but the empathy underlying each sentiment can be applied to any survivor’s particular response.

    • Know that this is a legitimate reaction.
    • It is not shameful that your body went paralyzed.
    • Your brain and body did what was necessary to survive.
    • It can be incredibly hard to share details of one’s sexual assault—thank them for sharing and acknowledge their courage in doing so.
    • They may or may not want to learn the “how” and “why” of tonic immobility. At minimum, validate their experience with the points from the previous section.
    • Ask (don’t tell) what kind of help would be best for them. 
    • Rather than call them out, call them in for a conversation.
    • Share the facts of tonic immobility and how our bodies are programmed to do this.
    • Emphasize that people may have unexpected reactions during highly traumatic events, but at the core of these reactions is an effort to cope and get through that trauma.

Consider how these reminders might be used or adapted to fit in your conversation “toolkit”. As previously mentioned, empathy goes a long way in supporting survivors both directly and indirectly. Learning how to better support victims of sexual violence is never over. Let’s use what we’ve learned here to continue having conversations and enacting change to fight against sexual violence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Britta Koenen is a senior at St. Olaf College studying biology and women’s and gender studies. Her senior project involved researching, writing, and creating educational programs focused on tonic immobility. Contact her at

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Learning More: Tonic Immobility Part 2

Part 2 of our series on Learning More about Tonic Immobility:

“I felt paralyzed”: breaking down a sexual assault reaction (Part 2)

Welcome back! Last time, we talked about a reaction that can happen during sexual assault called tonic immobility. Basically, this is a state of temporary paralysis where you’re fully conscious but you can’t move, yell, or feel pain. It’s induced by two things: extreme fear and either physical restraint or just the perception of being trapped. Today, we’ll get into more detail on what scientists know about tonic immobility during sexual assault.


Originally, tonic immobility was researched in animals, which is what initially led to the list of characteristics and conditions associated with tonic immobility. Since the realization that this also occurs in humans, not just animals, researchers have learned much more about how this phenomenon affects people. Research on human tonic immobility happens differently than animal tonic immobility, however. With animals, experimenters induce this reaction to observe it happening in real time since we can’t ask animals about their experience with tonic immobility. With people, it would be very unethical to put a person through this reaction when we have the option of asking them about it instead. Experts have put together a survey to retroactively figure out how many tonic immobility symptoms someone had—without putting them through tonic immobility all over again. Getting a certain score or above on the survey indicates that the respondent did, in fact, have a tonic immobility reaction. These survey results can then be compared with other factors, like type of trauma or PTSD survey scores, to then draw conclusions.

A great deal of this research focuses on tonic immobility during sexual assault, which is the main focus of this post. One of the earliest human tonic immobility studies in 1993 showed that there was an immobility response in 37% of the sexual assault survivors who took the survey2. Later, in a 2005 study, researchers found that 52% of respondents who had been through childhood sexual assault experienced tonic immobility3. Furthermore, a 2017 study in Brazil found that tonic immobility survey scores were two times higher for sexual trauma than any other type of trauma4

Ultimately: this trauma response is VERY common in both adult and childhood sexual assault.

There are a few notable post-assault outcomes linked to tonic immobility. One study showed a stronger association between tonic immobility and the female gender, and tonic immobility and PTSD (as compared to respondents of the male gender and without PTSD)5. Expanding the latter association, another study linked tonic immobility to more negative PTSD diagnoses and worse responses to PTSD treatment6. The link between tonic immobility and poorer PTSD outcomes is considered to be a result of the perception of being trapped, one of the two necessary cues to turn this reaction on7. Tonic immobility is also connected to stronger feelings of guilt and self-blame after an assault, which can further worsen PTSD and negatively impact a survivor’s healing process4, 8. Finally, just going through tonic immobility may be traumatic in and of itself 9. The bottom line?

There’s a complex relationship between tonic immobility during a sexual assault and what negative consequences a survivor faces as a result of this reaction.

Knowing how drastic the characteristics of tonic immobility are, how frequently it occurs in sexual assault, and how it can lead to many negative consequences for survivors, there are steps we can all take to help out survivors. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do with all of this tonic immobility information and how to navigate conversations about sexual assault reactions. Stay tuned!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Britta Koenen is a senior at St. Olaf College studying biology and women’s and gender studies. Her senior project involved researching, writing, and creating educational programs focused on tonic immobility. Contact her at

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Learning More: Tonic Immobility

In our new series “Learning More” we will be addressing some different topics that we invite you to learn more about.

Today’s blog post is Part 1 on Tonic Immobility from Britta Koenen.


“I felt paralyzed”: breaking down a sexual assault reaction (Part 1)

Imagine this: you’re hosting a group of friends over for dinner, and the night is winding down. One by one, each of them depart and head home; only one friend remains to help clean up. The two of you banter and laugh while you work until you step away to return something to your bedroom. As you turn to leave, you realize your friend has followed you in and closed the door. That uneasy gut feeling tells you something is off as your adrenaline begins to spike. As they speak and approach you, your heart drops as you realize they intend to take advantage of you. Fear grips you as you struggle to assess what to do. They’re blocking the door, you’re in a corner, no one else is home—you feel trapped. As the assault starts, you try to talk and maneuver away to no avail, when suddenly you’re completely paralyzed. You can see and hear everything that’s happening, but your body is rigid, your voice won’t work, and you can’t feel any pain. The panic you’re feeling escalates as you’re stuck in your mind with no control over your body. There’s a name for this reaction: tonic immobility.


Researchers define tonic immobility as “a temporary catatonic-like state, marked by…motor inhibition, suppressed vocal behavior…[and] attenuated responsiveness to stimulation”1. Simply put, it’s when the brain puts the body into a short period of paralysis to protect it from serious injury or trauma. Oftentimes, this paralysis is accompanied by a host of other characteristics too. These can include the inability to vocalize, the inability to feel pain, tremors or muscle spasms, lowered heart rate, lower body temperature, and slower breathing. 

There are two crucial things to remember about tonic immobility. The first is that you’re fully conscious while it happens. Someone going through this is aware of the traumatic event happening and does fully remember it, often in very vivid, sensory detail. The second is that tonic immobility is involuntary; a person can’t “choose” to not freeze. Our brain has a deep, animal instinct that automatically turns on tonic immobility when the body receives certain danger cues; ultimately, this instinct is meant to protect us from harm. 

So what are these two cues that turn on tonic immobility? The first cue is extreme fear. In humans, tonic immobility can happen during highly traumatic events like sexual assault or rape, war-related trauma, urban violence, car accidents, natural disasters, and more. An individual going through any of these is likely to have extreme fear as the traumatic event is happening. The second cue is either physical restraint or the perception of being trapped. This can mean being held down by a perpetrator during a sexual assault or a seatbelt restraining you after an accident, but it can also mean feeling like there’s no way out of a situation—EVEN without physical contact occurring. This cue is why tonic immobility happens more frequently with sexual trauma than other types of trauma; sexual assault is more likely to have that physical component.

Tonic immobility is sometimes referred to as trauma-induced paralysis, rape-induced paralysis, freezing, or whatever language a survivor uses to describe the reaction they had. Regardless of the terminology used, the main takeaways about tonic immobility are summarized here:

      • Involuntary reaction to trauma
      • Inability to move, vocalize, or feel pain
      • Fully conscious
      • Extreme fear 
      • Physical restraint/feeling trapped

Over the next few days, we’ll learn about tonic immobility in the context of sexual assault, and how we can use this information to be more empathic to survivors. Stay tuned!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Britta Koenen is a senior at St. Olaf College studying biology and women’s and gender studies. Her senior project involved researching, writing, and creating educational programs focused on tonic immobility. Contact her at

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What if, after a sexual assault …

What if, after a sexual assault, the first thing you wanted to do was tell people, because you knew that everyone would believe you? And that they would be there with you — steady and loving — through the days, and the months and the years that followed? What if they kept you company when you needed company and left you alone when you needed to be alone and took care of the children and did the dishes? Or if you were a child yourself, what if they kept coming over to play with you even though you felt mad sometimes?

What if everyone knew and kept loving you? What if all the family or friends you shared with the perpetrator, and who “didn’t want to choose sides,” understood they had to choose sides anyway, and they chose you?

What if the community gathered in unity to support you? What if we all knew songs to sing after a sexual assault — songs of grief, and songs of anger, and songs of healing? What if we sang them together because we believed the assault hurt the whole community, and we all needed to help with the healing?

What if you got paid time off from your job and everyone understood completely because this happens to so many of us, and then they were all happy to welcome you back with chocolates? And kept giving you extra breaks until you did not need that any more? Or what if your teachers understood completely? What if they knew it was going to be a long hard road, and they were consistently patient and encouraging because they believed in you no matter what?

What if money showed up to pay for the medical bills? The pizzas you ordered because you weren’t up for getting out of bed much less buying groceries? The finance charges that racked up from the weeks when the bills on the table seemed like something from another universe? The lost work?

What if the doctors were all respectful and compassionate? What if they made you feel better in every way? What if you could see a therapist whenever you wanted who knew what they were doing, and it didn’t cost anything? What if you didn’t even have to leave home if that was hard, but you could still get the medical care you needed?

What if everyone made sure you could stay at home and be safe there?

What if there was no down side to calling the police? What if they treated you like royalty, and you knew your whole family was safer because they were there? What if the courts were the same way? And if anyone from the justice system let a careless word slip about you, what if everyone within earshot murmured in disgust at the insensitivity and shook their heads?

What if everyone who gossiped about assault was sharing their outrage at the behavior of the perpetrator?

What if the perpetrator saw and heard all of this? What if everyone who considered supporting the perpetrator saw it too? What if everyone who might grow up to be a perpetrator saw it?

How could we make this a reality?

Because until we do bring this closer to reality, then too many of us are implicated in the devastation of sexual violence. The stigma, the denial, the blaming needs to stop now. Look for opportunities to make a difference for survivors, then take those opportunities. We can do better.

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We will win though

During the past weeks, our nation has been awash in the issue of sexual assault as the Kavanaugh hearings placed it front and center in the news and on social media. The nuances of all those stories are intimately familiar for me and for many survivors. In my personal life, in my work in the battered women’s movement, and in supporting friends, I have seen how domestic and sexual violence is repeatedly dismissed denied and minimized. I have known crushing victim-blaming. I have watched how families and communities protect perpetrators with such striking consistency that it seems they are following some kind of shared cultural script. As this plays out again on a national stage, it confirms and enforces an oppression that many of have experienced personally and vicariously.

It can feel hopeless, like nothing will change. It can feel like basic power over our own bodies can be denied while the community decides to look the other way.

This fight has been waged for a very long time now. Sometimes we move ahead, and sometimes we fall back, but looking over the course of generations, we have made progress against gender-based oppression. The battles change, the tactics change, and there are sometimes retreats or detours, but none of what we are facing today is new. Backlash is no surprise. The impressive power of some of our adversaries is no surprise. The exhaustion, suffering and defeat we may feel is no surprise.

Our strength is no surprise either. In the long haul of this battle, many of us learn how to become warriors. We don’t learn it through formal training but through the messy process of hitting our own limits and then somehow finding the resources to learn and keep living. We learn it by looking unflinchingly at the truth even when it is excruciating. We learn it because our continued existence depends on it.

I am not using that phrase lightly. We are confronting deadly stuff. Some of us die because of the injuries we received in domestic and sexual violence, and many are lost through suicide or the ongoing complications that come as a result of trauma. Some of us lose huge parts of our lives to addiction that we accidentally stumbled into as a coping mechanism. Some of us are pulled into the false safety of denial where our lives can never unfold in wholeness. Some of us retreat into silence and submission to stay safe. Through all of this, we keep fighting against the awful weight of it, adjusting our tactics to the situations that present themselves.

As someone who sees herself as a combatant in a war on women, I have been thinking for a long time about what courage means. It has been hard for me to see myself as courageous because I am a gentle person, and in my personal battles against domestic and sexual violence, I always felt completely overpowered. None of those pictures fit my image of a strong, brave warrior. Over time, I have begun to see courage as moving towards a powerful vision even when everything we see suggests that the vision is unworthy or out of reach. It means coming back to fight for the vision even after we feel that we have let ourselves or others down in some way. It means continuing to resist, even when our actions seem insignificant or when we know that our hopes may not be reached.

Many of us have earned the badge of courage, and we will continue to wear it. We will continue to use it because we have no choice. We will continue to fight for our human rights, and over the course of generations, I believe we will continue to win.

By Hope Center volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan

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When an abuser is someone we admire

When I was growing up, we watched the Cosby Show faithfully. Like many families, we felt like Bill Cosby was a family friend who shared our home every week and invited us into his own. He earned the nickname “America’s Dad.”

His recent conviction for sexual misconduct invites us to look at the way we see people who commit acts of domestic and sexual violence. Like Bill Cosby, most have talents and gifts. There are people who love them, and usually people who trust them. They are often dependable neighbors, beloved friends, or dear cousins. Most are not monsters.

Seeing perpetrators as monsters keeps our culture stuck in a system that supports abuse. If only monsters abuse, then nobody can believe that an abuser might look like the gentleman in church, or their co-worker, or their relative. When these regular, every-day people abuse, then their victims are often disbelieved, blamed and isolated. The victim is the one causing the problem, not the accused, because clearly the accused is not a monster.

Over and over, survivors report that when an abuser is respected in a community, people don’t want to “take sides.” It is impossible for community members to remain neutral in this situation because continuing to include an abuser in family or community events without some serious safeguards is going to exclude the victim. Taking no action supports the abuser. This kind of exclusion has probably happened to someone you know, or maybe it is happening to them right now.

It is far easier to stand up against abusers when there is distance between you and the person who has been abusive. Some people find a certain satisfaction in being outraged by abuse cases in the news because this reassures them that they are on the right side of history. Some of the same people find it extremely hard to extend that same outrage to people they have known and appreciated.

There is actually an element of humor to this. Over and over again, in the newspaper articles that appear after a domestic homicide, people bring up memories of the everyday interactions they had with the murderer. They will say things like, “He was always out there mowing his lawn, keeping it looking nice.” Or, “He was a nice, quiet neighbor who kept to himself.”

Certainly, having a neighbor unexpectedly kill someone would make a person reflect on the contrast between what they saw every day and the horror of a crime. This is a human thing to do in a traumatic situation. Still, the consistency with which these statements are repeated becomes more surreal with each passing year. It reflects a shared and problematic belief that regular, caring people do not commit horrific crimes. Except they do. People who abuse are real people who were often abused themselves, and who are often beloved. Sometimes they even keep their lawns looking nice.

By the very nature of the crime, the victims of domestic and sexual violence have no leverage to push their abusers towards change. The rest of the community sometimes has that leverage. We can use that leverage to demand change if we can accept the reality that abusers are sometimes people we love, and that one way of expressing that love is to cut through the deception and secrecy that usually surrounds abuse. We call out the best in people who are important to us, and we sometimes set limits with people to maintain our integrity and the safety of the most vulnerable.

Because abuse is so common, we inevitably know and probably admire people who have perpetrated domestic or sexual violence. Like Bill Cosby, these people may enrich our lives. When it comes to Bill Cosby I still appreciate his humor. I still remember the times my family sat together in the living room looking at an image of his face on TV and smiling. His gifts to us were real. I hope one of his gifts to our culture will be that when we face allegations of abuse within our own beloved communities, we will think of Cosby, remember that most people who abuse do not look like monsters, and then take action to support survivors.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan

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Remembering Barbara Jean…

Barbra Jean

Remembering Barbara Jean

“I remember clearly talking to Barb on the phone in the morning on that day.  Barb was working at the Chamber just for the morning, by herself, and she was in such a happy mood.  She told me that she had dinner with Tim the night before, and how much she enjoyed being with him.  I told her I was so glad that she had found someone who made her so happy.  At the end of the call, we said I love you to each other, and Merry Christmas.  I never imagined this would be the last conversation that I would ever have with my sister”.

“…Before it happened, Barb had done a funny Facebook post about sisters. Linda and I had both commented on it. I remember it so well, and I remember that just before he took her from all of us she was thinking of us. We were all thinking of each other”.

“When I got the call from Laurie that Barb had been killed my first thought was why. I knew that their divorce was not amicable, but I never thought he would do something like that”.

“I can still hear my mom’s voice in my head as she cried into the phone, ‘He killed her, Katie.  She’s dead’”.

On December 23, 2016, our beloved Barbie was murdered.  She was a victim of domestic violence; a murder-suicide.  Barb was the 17th known person to be murdered due to domestic violence in Minnesota.  She was so much more than a statistic, though.  She was our mother, our sister, our aunt, our grandmother, and our friend.

There are some who do not want her story to be told – it’s too painful…it brings up too many hard memories…it sheds a negative light on someone people loved.  But for Barb’s sake, and for every other victim lost to domestic violence, we will not be silenced.  We choose to share her story on the anniversary of her death in the hope that it will raise awareness about domestic violence.

We choose to share her story not to relive the painful memories, but because we believe sharing it will continue to shed her brilliant light on this world.  Someone tried to stifle that light, but we know as long as we keep her memory alive, and as long as we continue to tell her story, her light will never fade.

Yes, this is a story of great loss and perpetual grief, but this is also a story of hope.  At the time, we did not know the severity of her situation.  We did not know then that he was capable of the senseless violence that took her from us.  We could not have known, because she never wanted to burden us with her fears that he would hurt her – that was Barbie’s way.  Now we know.  But now, we are filled with hope that her story will inspire others in her situation to confide in someone and seek help.

Nobody deserves to become a victim to domestic violence.  Already in 2017, Minnesota has seen 21 people murdered due to domestic violence, surpassing the 2016 total.  21 precious lives lost too soon.  Each one with a unique story – ending the same way.  While their voices have been silenced, ours have not.  Today and every day, we choose to be truth-tellers, we choose to be advocates, we choose to empower those who feel voiceless.  Because by remaining silent, the abuser wins.

According to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, “For someone surviving domestic violence, connection is essential. Knowing someone is there and cares about what is happening can be a lifeline”. If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation of any kind, we urge you to seek help.

There are several resources available –

  • Day One® Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1.866.223.1111
  • Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women:
  • HOPE Center 24-hour Safeline (Rice County): 1.607.2330
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.799.7233 or 1.800.787.3224

We hope that Barb’s story will resonate with you on some level.  Maybe you, too, have experienced the loss of a loved one and can deeply understand what it means to have a permanent hole in your heart.

Maybe you are a survivor, or are surviving a domestic violence situation and you know what it means to live in constant fear of wondering if tomorrow might be your last day.

Maybe you are someone that knew Barb; knew the beautiful light and energy she bestowed on her friends, family, and community, and are profoundly missing her presence.

Whoever you are, we hope you know that even though Barbie is no longer with us in person, her spirit remains alive and well because of the unconditional love and support we saw from our community, because of the bonds of family that were strengthened in a situation that was meant to break us, and because we continue to share her story to help others.

People are not statistics and domestic violence doesn’t choose its victims based on gender, sexuality, or economic status.  Because of this, we will use our voices for good – nothing, not even death, can silence us.

Authored by:  Katie Laughlin, with quotes provided by Pat Fliegel, Laurie Johnson and Linda Laughlin.

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Keeping the “Me too” conversation going

In the middle of October, out of nowhere, my Facebook feed filled with posts that said “Me too” as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment. At first it felt exhilarating that our culture’s denial of our reality might be lifting a bit. The next day the online arguments started. At first, the hottest issue seemed to be that the campaign focused only on women. Other conversations that have stayed with me from the “me too” campaign are about listening to women of color and about the complications of going public as a survivor.

A lot of words have already been devoted to why this campaign didn’t specifically include men. I know male survivors of sexual violence face all the awful legacy that we female survivors face, plus some unique and additional stigma. There is nothing about this that is OK, and sweeping it under the rug means acting in cooperation with the perpetrators, which is something we can’t accept. At the same time, there is a special weight of sexual violence and harassment that falls on women as an element of gender-based violence and oppression. We’ve made huge strides in beating back the structures that have undermined our dignity for thousands of years, but this doesn’t change completely overnight. We need to be able to talk specifically about that particular problem, so we can address it.

Until this “me too” campaign came up, I was hearing a lot of voices saying that we’ve pretty much solved gender-based oppression, but that is not my experience, and it is not the experience of my family or many others. My father (who had me very late in life) was four years old before his mother could legally vote. My mother’s generation had to plow through harassment and violence with no recourse, and often without any vision of how things could be better. My sister’s husband broke her skull and then kidnapped her in handcuffs and drove her across the country after she fled to us for safety. Two of the men who abused me sexually very clearly felt justified by old but thriving ideas that men are entitled to women’s bodies. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that because I was too busy surviving. Remembering all the details from a safer place, I can see that cultural beliefs fed those men and made me so much more vulnerable. There’s a gender-based pattern here, and we cannot stay in denial about it.

In addition, there’s a gender-based power difference in many situations of sexual harassment and violence. So many of us live in denial of the low-level threat that many women live with every day because we are women. I remember talking with a male friend who was experiencing repeated unwanted touch from a woman. I felt a wave of fear and outrage for him and asked how he was dealing with it. He asked me to imagine that I could just flick my fingers at a perpetrator and the perpetrator would be totally floored. I couldn’t even imagine that. Then I felt weird picturing my friend flicking his fingers at me, and my feeling turned to mild fear as I began to suspect that this was how he felt about me. This conversation does not represent the experience of many male survivors, and I am not implying that men who were victimized should have been able to deflect abusive behavior. Instead, my story offers a snapshot of a pervasive power structure that often makes many men feel that women can be effortlessly dismissed, and that makes women feel that they have to stay on the defense. We need to be able to talk about that.

Brand-new and sometimes subtle outgrowths of gender oppression spring from cultural patterns that go back thousands of years. We have to confront that if we want to change it, and this campaign seems to be moving us forward a tiny bit by peeling back at least a little denial. That’s great. At the same time, we can’t ever forget the people who are hurting, unseen and not represented by even the best-intended campaign of the moment.

Along those lines, I was fascinated that an African American woman started the “Me too” campaign a decade ago. This was a reminder that our culture chronically ignores the gifts and needs of women of color. I don’t think anybody consciously thought, “Oh. Let’s ignore this great idea because the woman who came up with it wasn’t white.” Still, it took some attention from a white lady to get this thing rolling. I don’t want to forget that. As a white woman, I want the memory of this to stay with me as one more reminder that I need to fight forces in my mind and in our world that keep us from following the leadership of women of color.

This campaign also brought up how hard it is for us to share our experiences of domestic and sexual violence. I read one heartbreaking piece from a woman who couldn’t bring herself to write “Me too” because she thought her experiences were so much milder than everyone else’s “real” experiences with violence and harassment. As far as I can tell, every single survivor carries that same concern. Because someone else had it “worse,” we don’t deserve help. We don’t have authority to tell our stories. We should be able to suck it up and keep plowing along. These beliefs hurt. They’re part of the legacy of violence that so many of us share.

Then there are women who feel an uncomfortable pressure to share. Only a first-class jerk would want someone to go public with her experience of sexual violence or harassment if she did not feel clear to do that. Some who decided against posting “Me too” feel alone in their decisions, but they aren’t. One poll suggested that a large majority of female survivors on social media did not post “Me too,” so actually the posters were in the minority — a highly visible minority. One woman wrote that, by deciding not to post “Me too,” she felt like she was painfully deciding against giving her help to other people. Thank goodness our personal experience is not the only currency we can use as we try to make change in the world. This campaign does not define anybody’s desire and ability to be of service, her courage, or anything else about her. When we all bring different gifts to the table at different times, it helps things keep moving forward.

This campaign has created some impressive motion, but it hasn’t actually solved that much. The problem is huge and the struggle against it has been going on for ages. Our efforts need to be sustained and broadened and tweaked over time. We will need everyone’s different gifts to keep making progress.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan
You can find more of her writing on her website:

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