University of Oklahoma professor Meredith Worthen started an Instagram account in August called Me Too Meredith, where survivors of sexual violence can share their stories anonymously. Worthen has posted hundreds of stories from across the globe, and her inbox is full of hundreds more waiting to be shared.
Worthen says sharing is a way for survivors to heal.
Meredith Worthen: Really the date that it took off was October 15, which is the one year anniversary of Alyssa Milano's first Me Too tweet, and on that day I got about ten stories, and the next day I got 10 or 20 more, and the next, and the next, until my inbox was full. So I'm about a month behind in getting to the stories because there are so many, and I can only handle so many a day, and I think that other people following the page also can only handle so many a day.
Caroline Halter: So what's your process for going through the stories and then posting them?
Worthen: Right. So people often just send me a story, and I respond. My first response back is, "Thank you for sharing your story. This is a difficult thing to go through. You're brave. You're courageous." And then I ask them, "Do you want me to share this anonymously?" And most respond very quickly and say yes I want you to post this anonymously, please. They often say things like, I want to help. I think my story will help. And so then I post it. I take screenshots of their story, and I count them, so everybody has a number...story number 325. So it's in the order of receipt.
Halter: Before we go any further I do want people listening to get a sense of the stories that people are sharing. And so one that you posted recently says, "While arguing with my husband at the time and father to my son, he held me down in a back bedroom of my parents house. He put his hand over my mouth and raped me. I didn't scream because I didn't want my son to hear. I silently laid there while the man I married forced himself inside me." That's obviously a story of rape, and there are some other stories on the page that don't necessarily fit into a category. I read another one that began with "I don't know what to call it." So there really is a wide spectrum of stories that people are sharing.
Worthen: Yes. I think that's something that is perhaps a bit unique about Me Too Meredith in that there are stories that people share, and sometimes they share the story and they say, "I don't know if this really counts." And that's something I really want to push back against. There's no reason to say this counts and this doesn't. All of these stories count. No one would send me something that didn't count. And I think that's really powerful. Some of these people even apologize... "I'm sorry, I may be blowing this out of proportion," and I push back against that and say, "No, absolutely not." And, most often, it's very much evidence of rape culture.
That one in four statistic...The statistic that one in four women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes is something that's very real. But if we include times that we felt sexually harassed, or uncomfortable, or targeted those numbers are extremely high. It would be hard to find a woman who has never felt sexually harassed. And I think that is part of this conversation as well. But I don't want to forget the people that aren't women either. Men experience sexual violence, transgender people experience sexual violence, nonbinary people experience sexual violence and many reports indicate that nonbinary and trans people experience significantly higher levels of sexual violence than cis men and women. And I think that's part of the story too.
Halter: You mentioned statistics. We obviously have statistics about things like rape and sexual assault, and we use those to try to illustrate the scope of the problem. And the few times I've visited the account, scrolling just through story, after story, after story...It almost makes you feel the scope of the problem. I think sometimes when we use statistics they can kind of fall flat.
Worthen: Definitely. Definitely. I could not agree with you more. Statistics are powerful to me, but I'm a social scientist. So when I hear like a percentage I feel overwhelmed by that statistic. But I recognize that that's not the norm. In fact, the norm is the story, just seeing the sheer amount of stories-- and remember, I have hundreds more in my inbox. I'm only getting to them slowly, and it is something that demonstrates the scope of the issue, as you're describing.
Halter: This is a heavy topic to discuss, so I want to end by just talking about what are some of the positive things that survivors get from sharing their stories?
Worthen: Yes. I think when we share our stories it has a ripple effect. After I post the story I send a message back to them that says, "I've posted your story. Let me know if it's OK. If you want me to make changes, let me know. If you ever want me to take your story down, let me know." And I had one survivor respond to that message saying that he was crying seeing his story there, seeing his story on the page, seeing it there for other people to see. It was such an emotional experience for him. And I think it's emotional because it's cathartic. I think it's emotional because it somehow makes it feel real. It's validating in some way. But I think it's also emotional because you know that it can help other people. And it is. When people read the stories they relate to them and they comment on them. They support each other. So I think it's been...response has been so great because it is doing what survivors need, and this is especially true in light of an increased conversation about victimhood, especially in light o fDr. Ford's testimony. Hearing Dr. Ford's testimony was amazingly powerful to me, and I just kept me going and I'm so glad I did, because only a couple weeks after her testimony was when people really started paying attention to Me Too Meredith.
Halter: All right. Well, Professor Meredith Worthen, thank you so much for joining us.
Worthen: Yes. Thank you for having me.
As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.