Story at a glance
- The #MeToo movement began in 2006, when sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke launched it online.
- Since then, the movement has grown, but survivors and victims still face “underlying, systemic issues.”
- A new report shows the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate economic toll on Black, Indigenous and other survivors of color.
The cracks that victims and survivors of sexual assault slipped through before the pandemic have widened into deep fissures — and Black and brown women are most often the ones falling.
But the leaders of the #MeToo movement refuse to let them fall behind. A new report measured the effects of COVID-19 on survivors and found that because nonwhite survivors are more likely to be financially insecure than white survivors, they are at higher risk for returning to or remaining in unsafe situations.
“In this moment the lived experience of a Black survivor is how do I get away from my abuser and keep a roof over my head, while the lived experience of a white survivor may be, well, I may not be able to deal with my court case right now and I may have to wait,” said Dani Ayers, the CEO of Me Too.
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Financial insecurity is deeply intertwined with the well-being of survivors and victims of sexual assault, and experts are concerned that lockdowns and quarantines necessitated by the pandemic could result in an increase of violence against women and lack of access to resources. The average amount of financial resources that Black and brown women survivors had sole access to was nearly six times less than that of white women survivors, according to the report, and more women survivors of color who are essential workers are experiencing food and housing insecurity.
"COVID-19 forced us all to face considerably unprecedented challenges, but what our findings show us is that when it comes to survivors of sexual assault in this country, and likely in other places as well, we are merely treating the symptoms of the problems facing survivors and not the actual virus. That is what still needs to change," said Me Too founder Tarana Burke in an email.
The economic toll of the pandemic has other consequences for survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Nearly three-fourths of women survivors of color who experienced financial abuse said they were likely to stop or change their education or other training programs, while more than half of white women survivors said the same. Meanwhile, some survivors have experienced sexual coercion at the hands of landlords and are more likely to experience food and housing insecurity just as a national moratorium on evictions is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
It gets worse, Ayers said.
“What we know about surveys is that it’s difficult to get under resourced populations to complete surveys and that in itself is an important point to make,” she said. “Even completing a survey, that is a luxury to have the time, the energy, the resources and the technology to complete a survey.”
Sexual violence and abuse is itself often underreported, only compounding the likely reality. Since Burke first started the movement in 2006, #MeToo has evolved into a global organization advocating for the rights of survivors and wellbeing of victims. But the report reveals that the pandemic has only set progress further back.
“The global community of survivors of sexual assault continue to look to each other and to our allies to push for change in any and every way we can, while continuing on our personal journeys to healing. That is the power of what we started three years ago,” said Burke in an email. “What this report reveals to us; however, is that what has not changed is the underlying, systemic issues that communities of survivors are facing - particularly Black and Brown survivors - are growing deeper.”
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