Just six months after the emergence of the #MeToo movement, change has begun to occur. In Western North Carolina, change showed up as a first-of-its-kind rally in Waynesville – where spectators said even though progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go. Someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 98 seconds. Even more startling, less than one percent of offenders ever face jail time for their crimes, due in large part to the stigma of identifying as a victim.
But thanks to the awareness generated by the #MeToo movement, survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual violence are standing up and speaking out about, like at the rally held in Waynesville. Buffy Queen is a facilitator for the Haywood Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force. “In Haywood County, we’ve had nothing like this as far as the rally,” Queen said. “We said, ‘It’s time.’”
The rally drew more than 70 people to the courthouse lawn, as well as speakers from the Canton Police Department, Haywood Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s office as well as local crisis intervention agency REACH. Waynesville Alderman Julia Boyd Freeman is the agency’s Haywood County executive director. “We offer a whole gamut of services including a 24-hour crisis hotline,” said Freeman. “We have an emergency shelter program for those fleeing a domestic violence or sexual assault situation, we have a legal advocacy program working with victims through the criminal justice system, we have a wonderful community education program just as what we’re doing here tonight.”
Both Freeman and Queen attribute the turnout for the rally to the local visibility of REACH over the past 32 years, as well as the #MeToo movement, which was popularized last fall when actress Alyssa Milano asked people on Twitter to respond if they, too, had experienced sexual assault. The hashtag was used more than 200,000 times that day, and more than half a million times by the next day. Their voice was loud and clear, according to Queen. “Millions of women posted,” she said. “And it was a safe way to say yes this happened to me, whether it was sexual harassment, or assault or rape, and they didn’t have to go into detail, they just had to say, ‘I’m standing up, I’m saying silence is deadly and we’re not going to be silent any more.’”
Resources for victims of sexual assault are available in all 100 North Carolina counties.