WARNING - DISTURBING CONTENT: People have been disclosing on Twitter the age they claim they were sexually assaulted.
Thousands of victims have come forward on the social media platform with the sentence “I was 18”, “I was 12” or “I was 8” as a spin-off of the #MeToo movement, which sought to out powerful men who committed acts of sexual assault or rape.
The #MeToo movement first appeared after stories emerged of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault of a number of actresses.
He was sentenced to jail in March.
The movement has continued on social media platforms though with people, often women, disclosing stories of sexual violence in the hope of inspiring others to come forward and to provide support.
But does disclosing such information on Twitter or Facebook help or hinder victims?
‘Testing the waters’
Dr Nicola Henry from the Social and Global Studies Centre at RMIT University in Melbourne told Yahoo News Australia it really depends on several factors.
Dr Henry, whose research includes the impacts of sexual violence, said some people on Twitter disclosing information such as their age may or may not be sharing this for the first time.
“When people do disclose this information it comes with a degree of anonymity,” Dr Henry said.
“For some people it’s ideal – there’s no face-to-face conversation and they don’t have to go into detail particularly on Twitter because there’s a character limit.
“But we also have to consider what their experiences online and offline have been like too.”
Dr Henry said some people who have disclosed the info might be receiving help from a healthcare professional or some type of support network. Others might not.
“I’d hate to say it’s either bad or good,” she said.
For those sharing it the first time, they could simply be “testing the waters” to see what responses they might get.
“If people receive positive responses it might encourage them to seek professional help and divulge more info,” Dr Henry said.
“We also know there are trolls who make hateful comments and for those disclosing their own history of sexual violence this can cause anguish and pain.”
Dr Henry added people who receive a “poor or bad response” might end up contributing to what she referred to as “underreporting”.
Under-reporting in cases of sexual violence refers to when victims are fearful of coming forward to police for a number of reasons including: fear of reprisal, not being believed or being mocked.
‘Cathartic, positive or both’
Others might share their story and not receive a response at all, Dr Henry said.
“That could be cathartic or positive or even both,” she said.
Dr Henry added there has not been a “huge amount of empirical” research conducted on the benefits or detriment of survivors of sexual violence sharing their stories online.
However, she said the #MeToo movement has been helpful in showing victims not only that they are not alone but that people care too.
A 1800RESPECT spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia in a statement, we live in a society where people “should feel safe to speak, if they want to, about their experiences in a way that’s comfortable for them”.
“Through speaking it can allow people to step away from any shame or stigma they may be holding and regain a sense of power,” the spokesperson said.
“A social media movement like this could also educate the general public on the prevalence of sexual assault.”
Regardless, sharing stories of sexual violence online can have its limitations and it’s always best to seek professional help.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.