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#MeToo: Harvey Weinstein case moves thousands to tell their own stories of abuse, break silence

October 16, 2017 at 6:17 AM

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Reports of rampant sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood have inspired women to speak up about their experiences, using the hashtag #MeToo. Actresses gave momentum to the campaign that has spread far beyond the entertainment industry. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

She urged any women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write two words on Twitter: “Me too.”

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” wrote the actress, who is known for her roles in “Who’s the Boss?” “Melrose Place” and “Charmed,” and as a host of “Project Runway All Stars.”

Alyssa Milano attends a red carpet event  in Los Angeles in January. (AFP/Getty/)

Milano starred in “Charmed” alongside Rose McGowan, one of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s accusers. She is also friends with Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman, and wrote in a blog post that she was sickened by the “disturbing” sexual abuse allegations against him.

Women listened. Within hours, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing in droves. By 4 a.m. Monday, more than 200,000 #metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count. The stories came pouring forth on Facebook as well with nearly 80,000 people said to be “talking about this” by the wee hours Monday.

The messages were striking in their simplicity, and in the sheer number of them. Those two words soon became a hashtag, the top trend nationwide on Twitter and yet another rallying cry for women — and men — who have experienced some type of sexual harassment or assault.

Harvey Weinstein, left, and his brother Bob Weinstein, co-founders of Miramax Films, at their offices in New York. Miramax produced movies including “Pulp Fiction,” “Clerks” and “The Crying Game.” The brothers were co-chairmen of the Weinstein Company from 2005 to 2017.
Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob, left, of Miramax Films at their offices in New York.
From left, David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman celebrate after receiving the best-picture Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” during the 71st annual Academy Awards.
Madonna and Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein and his then-wife, Eve Chilton, arrive at the 75th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
Weinstein, left, greets “Sin City” actor Clive Owen at the Los Angeles premiere of the film.
Weinstein, left, and producer Michael Ovitz head to a morning session at the annual Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Weinstein, left, talks with Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck at the Critics’ Choice Awards in Santa Monica, Calif.
Weinstein presents Renee Zellweger with the Crystal Award for excellence in film during the Women in Film Crystal+Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Weinstein, left, and Time Warner chief executive Richard Parsons head to lunch at the annual Allen and Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Weinstein and Donna Karan arrive at the premiere of “The Hunting Party” at the Paris Theater in New York.
Halston chief executive Bonnie Takhar, left, Weinstein and Liza Minnelli attend Halston’s fall 2008 show during Fashion Week in New York.
Weinstein, left, and director Kevin Smith at the premiere of “Zach and Miri Make a Porno” in Los Angeles.
Weinstein and his wife, Georgina Chapman, arrive at the 82nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
From left, Harvey Weinstein, Shauna Plumb, Alex Orlovsky, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, Ryan Gosling, Derek Cianfrance, Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell arrive for the screening of “Copie Conforme” at the Cannes film festival in France.
From right, show host Anne Hathaway, actress Helena Bonham Carter, Georgina Chapman and Harvey Weinstein at the 83rd Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
Weinstein and Georgina Chapman arrive at the White House for a state dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha.
From left, Weinstein, Cameron Bailey and Jackie Chan at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Weinstein, center left, with Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the Marchesa spring 2013 fashion show in New York.
From left, Georgina Chapman, Harvey Weinstein, Gloria Cooper and Bradley Cooper at the 2013 Vanity Fair afterparty at the Sunset Plaza Hotel in West Hollywood, Calif.
Weinstein and Katie Couric share a laugh as the Hollywood Reporter celebrates the “35 Most Powerful People in Media in New York.”
Weinstein and Jennifer Lawrence at the 24th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles.
Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey and Harvey Weinstein at a party after the Los Angeles premiere of “The Butler.”
Weinstein and Whoopi Goldberg listen as first lady Michelle Obama speaks at the White House in Washington.
From left, Meryl Streep, Harvey Weinstein and Margo Martindale at a screening of “August: Osage County” in Los Angeles.
Weinstein is presented with the W.E.B. Du Bois medal at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Weinstein and Keira Knightley attend the afterparty for “The Imitation Game” in Los Angeles.
Weinstein, left, and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter announce the release of “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” at a news conference in New York.
Quentin Tarantino, right, with Harvey Weinstein at the premiere of “Kill Bill: Volume 1” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Weinstein arrives at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Photo Gallery: Scenes from the movie mogul’s career.

Many shared brief but painful personal stories of their experiences, some reaching back to their teen years, others to bad memories of abuse in the workplace never revealed, of troubles they encountered in their families and of their own silence in the face of harassment or assault.

“#MeToo When I served in the military,” tweeted one woman. “More than a few times. I stayed silent for self preservation. I regret it daily.”

“I imagine there are teen girls who haven’t told their parents they’ve been threatened, groped, even WORSE just like I didn’t,” wrote another. 

“I have been raped twice in my life,” tweeted one woman, “stalked four times and was threatened with my life when I tried to speak out @ 14.”

There was the woman who said she was assaulted by a man who pretended to work at a local YMCA, and the woman who said she was groped in an elevator by a superior who was nearly two decades older. “I never told anyone,” she said.

Another recounted how in the sixth grade, a group of boys held her up against a wall as they pulled up her shirt to “see if I stuffed my bra with Charmin or Bounty.”

“The boys barely got a slap on the wrist but I was socially ostracized because I ‘couldn’t take a joke,'” she said.

A number of men shared their stories as well, including one who said he was raped by two men in high school and has never gotten over it.

Others offered their support.

Related: [Woody Allen, of course, warns of ‘witch hunt atmosphere’ following Harvey Weinstein scandal]

Others were simpler:

“By my mom’s then boyfriend,”  one tweet said.

“at 8, at 12, at 14 at 19 #MeToo,” said another.

“Me too, my mother too, my sister too, my grandmother too, my best friends too,” said another.

A number of celebrities joined in, including actors Rosario Dawson, Debra Messing and Anna Paquin, acknowledging that they, too, had dealt with similar experiences. Actor Gabrielle Union and singer Lady Gaga also tweeted the hashtag.

The #MeToo Twitter campaign was at least the second of its kind since decades of sexual abuse allegations emerged against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

On Oct. 5, the day the New York Times expose revealed the claims against Weinstein, thousands of people took to Twitter to share their own encounters with sexual harassment in the workplace, using the hashtag #MyHarveyWeinstein.

Just over a year ago, a similar response, under the hashtag #NotOkay, followed a leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which Donald Trump boasted about kissing and groping women.

Each time this has happened, predatory behavior once held in secrecy, and still tolerated in many settings, has become a little more public. Victims who may have suffered in silence seem to feel liberated, knowing they’re not alone.

Some women and victims of sexual assault expressed that Sunday’s stream of tweets felt empowering. For others, the sheer volume of posts — the pervasiveness of the issue — was disturbing. As Natalie Gouché wrote on Facebook:

As I read all of the #Me Too posts out there I feel heartbroken. So many women have been sexually assaulted. And many in their youth. As I think to myself “it’s never happened to me.” I realize that while I’ve not been sexually assaulted I have been sexually harassed (many times before.) Sadly that’s the case with most women at some point in their lives right? . . . Seeing so many women vocalize that they have been sexually assaulted or harassed gives more women the courage and bravery to speak up, tell someone, and not feel so ashamed.

“We shouldn’t have to out ourselves as survivors in order for people to grasp the magnitude of how systemic assault & harassment are,” one tweet read.

Days earlier, a different Twitter campaign spread in response to the social media platform’s temporary suspension of the account of McGowan, after she had tweeted about Weinstein.

In solidarity, scores of women vowed to leave Twitter all day on Friday, and used the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter.

Twitter said it banned the actress because she tweeted a private phone number, violating its service terms. After the backlash, Twitter lifted the suspension and said it would “be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

Milano joined in the boycott, tweeting that Friday would be the first day in more than 10 years that she wouldn’t tweet.

McGowan joined the “me too” movement overnight.

Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs started in TV’s “Charmed,” which aired from 1998 to 2006. McGowan joined the cast in 2001. (Screen grab/”Entertainment Tonight”/)

Milano spoke out against Weinstein on her website, Patriot not Partisan, on Oct. 9, four days after the New York Times article was published.

She said the statement was “complicated” for personal reasons, including the fact that she is good friends with Weinstein’s wife, who has since said she is leaving the film producer. The Weinsteins also have two young children whom Milano’s children have known their entire lives, Milano wrote.

“It is because of my love” for Weinstein’s wife and children “that I haven’t publicly commented on this until now,” Milano wrote. “Please don’t confuse my silence for anything other than respect for a dear friend and her beautiful children.”

“This is not an uncommon occurrence,” she added. “This is a sick culture. Men like Harvey Weinstein are around every corner. Men who undermine women and their strength, ability and intelligence exist everywhere.”

More from Morning Mix:

Woody Allen, of course, warns of ‘witch hunt atmosphere’ following Harvey Weinstein scandal

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Samantha Schmidt is a reporter covering gender and family issues.

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