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10 October 2018updated 12 Oct 2018 8:58am

The year women said: Me Too

Helen Lewis, Linda Grant, Kate Maltby, Sarah Ditum, Janice Turner & Caroline Criado Perez on the strengths and weaknesses of the feminist rallying call

By Helen Lewis

In 1997, a 13-year-old girl went to her counsellor at a youth camp and said that “her mother’s boyfriend… was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body”. But the counsellor couldn’t bear to listen, and sent her on to speak to another adult. That counsellor was called Tarana Burke, and she deeply regretted her decision for years afterwards. “I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place,” she wrote later. “I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper… me too.”

That two-word phrase provided a name for Burke’s movement against sexual assault and harassment. It gained worldwide recognition when it was unwittingly echoed by the actor Alyssa Milano on 15 October last year. Days after the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein were published by the New York Times, Milano tweeted: “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.” The first response? “Me too, he was my stepfather.”

The resulting movement has been remarkable. First, its scale: in the first week, 1.7 million tweets included the phrase, and 45 per cent of Facebook users in the US had at least one friend who posted “me too”. Second, its universality. What started with famous actors – Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o – soon spread. An initial tussle for credit saw Burke hailed quickly as the originator of the phrase, and she attended the 2017 Golden Globes as the guest of Michelle Williams. Third, its radicalism. I can’t remember any feminist movement which has scared powerful people, really scared them, so much in the last decade. The demands of #MeToo have no limit, and are not amenable to being captured and resold to women as empowerment via cutesy T-shirts, pointless training seminars and endless “women in power” summits.

As the year went on, the roll call of figures sacked or shamed after accusations of “inappropriate behaviour” grew longer. Jeffrey Tambor left the US television series Transparent; Kevin Spacey was ditched from the final series of House of Cards; the comedians Aziz Ansari and Louis CK disappeared from public view for several months. Yet the entertainment industry may end up being a special case, more susceptible to #MeToo than other areas. Even A-list actors and directors are essentially freelancers, hired on a project-by-project basis. Other male-dominated sectors awash with money, where power is highly concentrated – think of football – have been notably less affected. Vox’s list of more than 250 people accused in the last year has 97 in the “arts and entertainment” category, and just 16 people in “business and tech”.

In the political world, #MeToo’s effects have been obvious. Two Labour MPs, Kelvin Hopkins and John Woodcock, were suspended over harassment allegations, which both deny (Woodcock has since resigned from the party). Two Conservative cabinet ministers, Damian Green and Michael Fallon, left the government. In the US, Al Franken resigned as a Democratic senator. And as Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination as a Supreme Court justice cleared the Senate, it was over the screams of protesters. “I do not consent!” shouted one.

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The previous week, as Christine Blasey Ford testified to a Senate committee that the Republican nominee had attacked her as a teenager, angry women confronted politicians in their own offices. They trapped them in lifts and cornered them in corridors, telling their own stories of abuse, often for the first time. From Britain, the sight of so many women descending on a male-dominated seat of power with such militancy stirred memories of the Suffragettes. But flick the channel to the committee questioning Blasey Ford and there was another parallel: the grim-faced ranks of old white men picking over her life looked like something out of Margaret Atwood’s Gilead.

For a glimpse at the forces opposing the #MeToo movement, you only had to wait a few days, until Donald Trump mocked Blasey Ford at a rally. “How did you get home?” he said, to cheers. “‘I don’t remember.’ How’d you get there? ‘I don’t remember.’ Where is the place? ‘I don’t remember.’ How many years ago was it? ‘I don’t know.’” It was a rewriting of history, right before our eyes. Anyone who had watched the hearing would have seen that Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology, was anything but vague; her answers were clinical and precise, including being honest about which facts she could not recall. Trauma affected the brain, she explained, by wiping out peripheral details. She remembered Kavanaugh pinning her down, she remembered his friend Mark Judge entering the room, and she remembered how they treated it as a great joke between the two of them: “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter”.

Kavanaugh’s testimony, by contrast, was hideous to watch. He lurched between tears and anger, and lied repeatedly about his youthful drinking habits, prompting other classmates to contradict his claims. He appears to have lied about the meaning of vulgar in-jokes in his yearbook (a “devil’s triangle”, he said, was a drinking game, rather than the accepted definition of a threesome involving two men and a woman). He was partisan and conspiratorial, blaming “the Clintons”.

His confirmation really matters, because of the huge and unchecked power of America’s Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is likely to be delivering judgements, including on the inevitable challenges to abortion rights through Roe vs Wade, for the next three decades. The Republican Party successfully framed the hearings as a trial where the highest standard of proof should be demanded, rather than a job interview to find the best candidate. (At no point does anyone seriously seem to have made the argument that Kavanaugh is America’s finest available legal brain.)

Nonetheless, I felt uneasy watching him sob and sniffle; it reminded me of the way in which rape complainants feel their characters are picked apart for credibility. A man can be an entitled, drunken, obnoxious misogynist and still not be a rapist. All the hearings proved to me is that hyperpartisan political spaces are no place to ascertain the truth about sexual assault. As Kate Maltby writes on the following pages, she was lucky that impartial civil servants looked into her claims against Tory minister Damian Green. Nicola Sturgeon has also commendably refused to be drawn on the independent investigation into her mentor and friend Alex Salmond.

By contrast, nothing about that Senate circus was fair on Kavanaugh or Blasey Ford. It was pure theatre. The FBI “investigation” which followed it was a sham. It could not have been clearer that the Republicans wanted to keep the allegations unresolved, and use them as a wedge issue: hasn’t the pendulum swung too far? Where’s the evidence? It’s his word against hers! Perhaps they suspect that a proper investigation would produce evidence that would have disqualified Kavanaugh, or perhaps they believe him to be innocent, but preferred a quick confirmation to a slow exoneration.
Either way, their cynicism is demoralising. The vagueness of #MeToo has helped victims come out (it’s easier to say “me too” than the more stark “I was raped” or “this man harassed me”). The phrase has helped the public discussion to stay “polite”, avoiding too much talk of brutality and bodily fluids. But that vagueness is also a drawback, smudging together mere thoughtless entitlement with violence and coercion.

The next phase is finding a process – due process – for such allegations. In a world of zero-hours contracts and poor employment protection, that will be difficult. In a world where the legal system is underfunded and understaffed, and where juries are still susceptible to old misogynist myths, it verges on impossible.

But it is striking that many of the women I have talked to about their experiences don’t want the men who wronged them to face a trial, or losing their job, or even a social media shaming. What most of them want is an acknowledgement – that it did happen, that they are not mad – and an apology. If we don’t work out the appropriate punishment for each type of offence, and therefore offer a path to eventual redemption, we won’t ever get from #MeToo to #IAmSorry.
Helen Lewis

Why I tweeted that I had been raped

Linda Grant

Here is a little #MeToo story. It happened a very long time ago, you probably weren’t even born. In 1978 I arrived at a Canadian university to do a PhD, knowing nobody, but entering an English department that had just discovered structuralism, semiotics, Foucault, Barthes and Derrida. It was one of those moments of academic disruption, young Turks against the old guard; even a member of faculty was holding informal seminars on continental criticism. That was why I had wanted to study there: freshness, modernity, a young, concrete campus on a mountain. I found somewhere to live in town in a shared house and a couple of weeks after my arrival was invited to dinner by a fellow graduate student and his wife who lived way out in the suburbs. They arranged for me to be given a lift from campus and back by another student who was part of the new wave of literary criticism.

We stayed very late, after 1am, I think. When we left he was really drunk, weaving about on the road, at one point he lost control of the car. I said he was too drunk to drive. He agreed. He suggested I stay the night at his place, which wasn’t far. Please note, he wasn’t a stranger and we weren’t on a date. He offered me his bedroom, he would sleep on the couch. I got into bed, a few minutes later he came into the room naked and threw himself on top of me. For a long time he ground away. Did I tell him no? Of course I did, as firmly as I could. I tried to push him away, he was heavy. By the side of the bed were a set of dumbbells, the first I’d ever seen in those pre-gym days. He was a heavy, muscle-bound Derridean intellectual.

The actual sex was not the worst thing that happened to me that night, what was worse was being trapped underneath him for several hours after he finally passed out. The next morning the phone rang. It was his girlfriend; he conducted a pleasant conversation with her about their plans for the day while I was still wedged underneath him.

I remember every detail of that night. I remember the extremely sophisticated (to me, back then) starter we had at dinner: coquilles St Jacques in their shells. And when I watched the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I thought, “He’s not lying, he doesn’t remember, it was an event without meaning for him. It’s not been lodged in his memory for decades like grit in the eye.”

Of course she remembered every detail, as that night in 1978 is clear to me, never forgotten, because it was the watershed in my life when rape became not something that was done in dark alleys by strangers, but by a man who could lucidly speak of deconstruction and “the sign”, and who, it is likely, is now a professor of literature somewhere. Does he remember me? Does he remember it as what he would perhaps call a one-night stand? Or not even that? Because I bet I’ve been erased from his memory all together. He never apologised or referred to it again.

While Kavanaugh was still giving evidence, denying any recollection of the assault on Christine Blasey Ford, I tweeted this little story from long ago, hashtagging it #MeToo. People said I was brave. Why brave? I’m not ashamed of being raped, where was my guilt? I’m not embarrassed, it was never a secret. Heroism does not come into it. It was pre-Aids, I was on the pill, there was nothing to fear. There has been a backlash against the #MeToo hashtag, as if it were a bandwagon women were jumping on, an attention-seeking emphasis on me, rather than too. But the point I wanted to make in tweeting was that there is nothing rare, unusual, or confined to right-wing Republicans about the female experience of being raped and sexually harassed. These stories are part of the fabric of our lives.

I wasn’t traumatised by what happened to me. I was enraged. There were then no structures on campus for reporting the rape to anyone but the university authorities, no women’s organisations, safe spaces – we were grown-ups, we were doctoral students, not kids away from home for the first time. I didn’t keep quiet about it, I nursed no grievance, I told everyone. Steer clear of him. That was my only real option then.

What I want from my experience 40 years ago is for men to know that sexual assault is part of women’s common everyday experience and social media is, frankly, the dream way of getting that across. I have added my name to #MeToo not for attention, but so young girls can cry out, It’s always gone on, it’s not a millennial issue! Feminism was always about saying the unsayable. So I said it. Thank you, #MeToo. 
Linda Grant is the author of “The Dark Circle” (2017) and other novels

The backlash when you call out a powerful man

Kate Maltby

onths before most of the world had heard of Brett Kavanaugh, the president of the United States had already cast feminists as his antagonists in a culture war between the #MeToo movement and defenders of due process. On 10 February, after two of his aides resigned because of domestic violence allegations, Donald Trump tweeted: “Peoples [sic] lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

 The two men with whom Trump was siding in this case had not, of course, gone to jail; they had merely failed vetting processes required by the terms of their employment. One of them was Rob Porter, who was accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend. He had been working for the administration even though an FBI investigation into his alleged abuse meant that his security clearance had been denied. Due process, it seems, is a selective demand.

The greatest mistake by the #MeToo movement has been to allow the reactionary right to own the phrase “due process”. The term “witch-hunt” makes me roll my eyes – the bursting dam of accusations is not a sign of mass hysteria, but of the sheer force of suppressed rage with which women (and others on the receiving end of patriarchy) have left unchallenged our experiences of harassment in the past. But to be effective, we need to acknowledge that Twitter mobs have sometimes taken flight too fast – and that they have picked soft targets.

In October last year, the journalists Rupert Myers and Sam Kriss saw their work evaporate after allegations of inappropriate behaviour to women were made about them on social media. I believe every story a woman has told about these men – the similarities and sheer force of numbers make them credible – and both have made limited apologies, although not full admissions of guilt. But I can’t help notice that both were freelancers; neither was protected by the terms of formal employment anywhere. Meanwhile, senior editors sit in glass offices, protected by gold-plated contracts and a network of contacts at the heart of power. We will not have progress until a credible case of sexual harassment is as dangerous to the executive of a corporate news group as it is to a jobbing freelancer. That takes robust HR policies, but it also takes complainants prepared to abide by them.

I was one of the lucky ones this year. That said, during nine weeks of a public inquiry into former cabinet minister Damian Green – as I hid from photographers at friends’ houses and was driven mad by apparent attempts to hack my email – I didn’t feel lucky. Allies of Green, whom I reported had propositioned me while offering to help my career, fed a constant leak of false claims to his allies in the media: at a particularly low point, forged text messages were given to the Mail on Sunday on Christmas Eve. These had been amateurishly doctored to make it look like I had pursued him.

There is nothing pleasant about making a claim of sexual harassment against the de facto deputy prime minister – I have watched the treatment of Christine Blasey Ford this month with a nauseous empathy. But unlike Blasey Ford, I was interviewed by civil servants who took care to be humane and who withstood severe political pressure to insist on running a fair inquiry. I was found “plausible”, which is all I’d ever really wanted; Green was categorically proved to have lied to the inquiry about pornography on his work computer, which cast doubt on his other denials.

Transparency is one of the first casualties of this type of inquiry; it remains deeply frustrating to me that the world can’t be made aware of the fuller, unpublished findings of the investigation, which remained confidential to protect other women and whistleblowers. But accepting due process means accepting that I can’t have everything I want. Due process doesn’t revolve around the wishes of one complainant. It revolves around protecting the most vulnerable people involved.

I don’t want the #MeToo movement to slow down; I want us to fight harder, louder, fiercer. The decision of the US Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, despite the resonating credibility of Blasey Ford, shows us how much work there is to do. But it is imperative that we root our demands in strong legal traditions. Blasey Ford was denied justice – not because social media tells us to #BelieveAllWomen, but because the FBI failed to interview her or to summon any of the many witnesses who have offered to testify. When less than a third of young men prosecuted for rape are convicted (“boys will be boys”), it is not unreasonable for women to feel that our criminal justice system offers us little protection.

In UK employment law, the problem is not even that legal safeguards don’t exist – it’s that employers don’t understand them. I have lost count of the people I have heard from this year whose employers don’t seem to know that the evidential standards for disciplining an employee are, at separate stages, “the balance of probabilities” and “reasonable belief”, not “beyond reasonable doubt”. (Protections in the US are less robust and need more work.)

 At its best the #MeToo movement is a call for fairer criminal trials, more equitable employment tribunals, impartial government inquiries. The American right has successfully painted the anti-Kavanaugh campaign as a regressive attack on the principles of due process. That’s how they won this round. If we let them own that turf, we lose. 
Kate Maltby is a writer and theatre critic

Pawed and propositioned, the forgotten victims

Sarah Ditum

The women on the Golden Globe red carpet looked different this year. It wasn’t only about what they were wearing (black); but about who they were. Eight of them were activists, brought as guests. These included the woman who coined “me too”, Tarana Burke; Saru Jayaraman, an advocate for restaurant workers, with Amy Poehler; and Monica Ramirez, who campaigns for female farm labourers, joining Laura Dern.

Despite a media tendency to treat #MeToo as a celebrity story, the women at its centre have always insisted that its focus is much wider: not one monstrous Weinstein, but a whole patriarchal system that crushes women in the workplace. As Scarlet Harris, women’s equality officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), points out, there’s not such a gulf between Hollywood and the world of low-paid employment when it comes to sexual harassment. “When you look at the cases of [actors] Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, they had effectively been blacklisted,” she says. “It’s exactly the same situation as an agency cleaner who knows that the agency won’t give her work if she’s seen to cause problems for one of their clients.”

Women’s vulnerability in the workplace isn’t about sex alone, but also the way in which sexism interacts with the kinds of jobs that women do. “Casualisation” – the shift to zero-hours, fixed-term or agency employment – is particularly prevalent in female-dominated sectors such as social care, retail, catering, cleaning and hospitality. Precarity means vulnerability. A woman who knows she can’t pay the rent if she doesn’t get the next shift is a woman with a heavy incentive to keep her mouth shut. More than half of women said they had experienced sexual harassment ranging from dehumanising comments to physical assault, according to a 2016 TUC report. But four out of five did not report it to their employers.

Another problem is that women’s legal recourse was drastically curtailed under the coalition government. Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 placed a legal duty on employers to protect employees from “third-party harassment” – that is, abuse by a customer, patient or client. This is important for low-paid women, who are often put into intimate contact with the public. Think of the female servers, groped and propositioned at the Presidents Club dinner, as exposed by the Financial Times. Or a female care worker, going into a client’s home alone. But in October 2013, Section 40 was repealed to “cut red tape”.

What the government actually cut were women’s rights. Take the case of Caitie, who works at a concession stand in Silverburn shopping centre, Glasgow. One day this summer, on her walk into work, a man exposed himself and masturbated at her. She reported this to the police, to no avail. Then he started appearing at her workplace, staring at her. Silverburn management told her the man was a “welcome shopper” and declined to act. Without Section 40, there’s nothing to compel an employer to place a female employee’s safety first.

Caitie’s experience has come to public attention because her father, Neil Mackay, is a journalist, and has written about it for the Herald newspaper. But many more women suffer with shame-soaked discretion. That is the point of sexual harassment, says Harris: “The whole purpose of it is to humiliate and to demean, and ultimately there’s a lot of stigma attached.” Many women will conclude that there are more costs than benefits to coming forward.

Another issue is that many women are simply not aware of their rights. Having a policy on sexual harassment is one thing, but unless a company is educating its personnel and actively enforcing the rules, the policy is simply empty words on the corporate intranet.

If internal processes fail, the legal system often offers little recourse either. Tribunal fees of £1,200 (introduced in 2013, ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in 2017) discouraged low-paid victims of sexual harassment from seeking justice. The fees are thankfully gone, but the courts are still limited in alarming ways. The 2015 Deregulation Act removed the option for tribunals to make wider recommendations about workplace culture– and so ensured that toxic environments can go unchallenged. Frustratingly, many of the necessary tools to fight sexual harassment have already been created – if only they were available.

That’s why it’s a mistake to think of #MeToo as a unique shift in women’s rights. It is only one recent manifestation of the decades-long pursuit of women’s labour rights. However, says Harris, the movement has put sexism back on the agenda: “We lost a lot of ground in recent years, in that sexual harassment became bound up more generally with bullying and harassment and lost the gendered dimension.” From the Hollywood studio system to the shop floor, women can only confront male power if we have the law on our side.

How far can we prosecute the sins of the past?

Janice Turner

This #MeToo year has been discomforting for women of my generation. Nothing surprised us. Not a movie producer preying on young actresses or a 15-year-old girl almost raped by prep school boys. Or any of the myriad accounts of male predatory behaviour disgorged across the world.

This was the mighty edifice of male power we grew up beneath. The price of our sexual freedom was the date which turned into unwanted sex; a career ascent meant learning to swerve creepy bosses, taxi lunges, hotel room knocks. Rather, the new and troubling question was to what extent our silence had made us complicit. In dealing with shitty men by informal means (a slap, telling our friends) or not all, did we perpetuate
their impunity?

This is why, as #MeToo revelations expanded from actual crimes to lesser sexual infractions, like an older man stroking a knee, our first response was: Oh, for God’s sake! Being able to navigate these moves was a badge of pride. Yet, over this year, my female peers have grown retrospectively angry. We share long-forgotten horrors and ask how we ever found this stuff funny. Why did we let men get away with so much? Did we lack courage?

And yet… For all the power of “I believe her” – and I do – I am queasy of pitchfork mobs. I refute that upholding due process means your feminism is weaker. I was disgusted when Emily Lindin of Teen Vogue, voicing a reckless revolutionary fervour, said she was cool if “innocent men’s reputations take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy”. I stand with the novelist Margaret Atwood excoriated for supporting a university lecturer fired even after he was cleared of assault allegations. I wrote in a Times column that I feared suicides and within a week Welsh Labour politician Carl Sargeant, sacked before he was even told the nature of sexual assault claims against him, let alone them being investigated, had taken his own life.

Many male writers expressed their emotional connection to #MeToo by saying “as a father of daughters”. Well, as a mother of sons I will not allow good men to be regarded as collateral as we seek justice against the bad.

Things are changing, not as fast as feminists might hope, but as the generational cogs turn. However depressing it seems that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, Christine Blasey Ford’s ordeal was not in vain. There was doubt over his guilt but not over the far more important question of whether sexual assault matters. No longer can a young American man believe that pinning down a terrified girl is just an inconsequential drunken jape: no longer will that girl feel her fate must always be silence and shame.

Two matters, however, still need addressing. First, not all #MeToo crimes are the same. I‘ve been concerned by the conflation of genuine criminal assaults with clumsy passes. As names came tumbling out, Harvey Weinstein’s rape allegations became enmeshed with Aziz Ansari’s rude, entitled dating etiquette. We must be careful and humane when litigating, especially retrospectively, in the hot, messy arena of the human heart.

At the height of the Westminster revelations, it was suggested MPs should face disciplinary action not just for having sex with young researcher underlings but with each other. Feminism as the new puritanism. It sounds neither realistic nor a whole lot of fun.

Moreover, I worry that in classifying a few over-ardent late-night texts or a hand lingering on a shoulder as sexual abuse, women are positing themselves as injured parties over matters it would be healthier just to shake or laugh off.

My generation fought stubbornly, wrong-headedly, often at great cost to our sanity, to avoid victimhood. Whereas modern identity politics, with its hierarchy of oppression, means young women too often rush to embrace it. I’m not sure that is healthy either.

My other concern is that this cloudburst of fragmented individual testimony is ignoring the bigger picture. I found myself talking to young women who felt affronted by the tiniest male physical infraction yet, because they regard themselves as “sex positive”, refuse to critique ever more violent internet porn whose narrative shapes men’s sexual mores.

They condemned the Presidents Club that hired young women in high heels and black knickers to “entertain” men by sitting on their knees, yet not strip clubs or brothels that hire young women to provide sexual favours. They were outraged by men working for Oxfam revealed to be trading aid for sex from vulnerable women in Haiti, yet they believe “sex workers” have “agency” and prostitution is empowering.

I hope the next step is a movement that unpicks these contradictions, then evolves its response to male power from personal and emotional to structural and political. From #MeToo to #ThemAll. 
Janice Turner is a columnist for the Times

Why I didn’t report the attack against me

Caroline Criado Perez

Afterwards, in the car, I laughed and pretended I couldn’t remember his name. It was an attempt – a pathetic one – to take back some form of control. Everything’s fine, you’re totally forgettable, I’m the one with the power here. He just looked at me, disgusted. I had been trying to recover some self-respect, but I just ended up feeling more like a slut who deserved what had happened to her than I already did.

That’s why I didn’t report my sexual assault. I internalised what I saw in that look. I internalised the disrespect evident in how he used my unwilling body for his gratification and then ejaculated all over me. I was a dirty slut and that’s what happens to dirty sluts. I was so ashamed that I had let it happen that I worried he might tell people (he was a mutual friend). It was six years before I told anyone at all.

This was before I discovered feminism. Before I knew that saying “no” should be enough for a man to respect your humanity and that it doesn’t matter if you’re drunk. It doesn’t matter if you danced with him in a club. It doesn’t even matter if you went back to his flat.

But even if I had known all that, even if it happened to me today, still – like most sexual assault victims – I wouldn’t report what happened to the police.

The conventional wisdom is that all men should be afraid of false reports of sexual violence. This is a lie. There is no plague of false reporting. False rape allegations are extremely rare and research shows that the few false reports that do get made don’t tend to name a perpetrator. And, as with most reported rapes, most cases don’t end up in court, let alone lead to jail time.

No, the real epidemic is not false reports. The real epidemic is unpunished sexual assault. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that last year, an estimated 646,000 people were victims of sexual assault in England and Wales. And more than 80 per cent of them didn’t report.

The usual explanation trotted out for consistently low reporting rates is that victims fear that they “won’t be believed”. But this abstract, anodyne phrase doesn’t begin to capture the true fear that victims have. It’s not that I fear I might not be believed. It’s that I know I will have to talk about the most degrading, violent and violating thing that has ever happened to me to a defence lawyer whose literal job it is not to believe me. “Isn’t it true, Ms Criado Perez, that you had been drinking?” “Isn’t it true, Ms Criado Perez, that you danced seductively in the club?” “And isn’t it true, Ms Criado Perez, that he gave you a lift home after the alleged attack – and you joked in the car afterwards? Why would you joke with him if it wasn’t consensual, Ms Criado Perez?”

No, thank you. Nothing – not even a conviction – is worth going through that.

In any case, the likelihood is that he would not be convicted anyway. In the past year, 41,000 people reported rape to the police in England and Wales. Following that, 3,600 suspects were charged. Just 5.7 per cent were eventually convicted.

The reasons for any jury’s decision are complicated, but research shows that a young man is much less likely to be convicted than an older man, because juries are reluctant to “ruin his life”. Meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service stands accused of dropping “difficult” cases – if she was drunk, if she is unsympathetic – in order to massage their statistics. In the past year alone there has been a 23 per cent drop in rape cases being prosecuted, leading to the lowest figure in a decade. Remind me again who should be afraid?

It’s been a year since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein kick-started the #MeToo movement, and the wave of revelations has felt unstoppable. Women are bypassing the courts and speaking their truths out loud, in part because the law has failed us, but also because this movement is not, at heart, about retribution. It’s about lifting the veil of silence that has shrouded our wounds for too long, keeping our trauma in suspended animation, eating away at us.

Of all this, most men should not be afraid. But perhaps some of them should be – and that’s not a bad thing. #NotAllMen, yes, but to those men who have hurt us, we are saying: welcome to our world. We never got to move on and forget – now you won’t either.

You may not pay for what you did in court, but you will know that we will talk about it. We will tell other women what you did. And you can’t make us shut up about it. Not any more. 
Caroline Criado Perez is the author of “Invisible Women”, published by Chatto & Windus in March 2019

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This article appears in the 10 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How austerity broke Britain