Finding Light and Love Amid the #MeToo Awakening

In 2007, Tarana Burke created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit devoted to helping victims of sexual harassment and assault. She named her movement “Me Too.” Ten years later, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women who have been harassed or assaulted to use #MeToo, inspiring a flood of survivors of sexual assault and harassment to come forward with their stories. #MeToo was tweeted nearly a million times in just 48 hours, highlighting the magnitude of the problem.

Still, powerful women ranging from Oprah Winfrey to human rights attorney Sara Elizabeth Dill are sending encouraging messages. Two words have been prominently discussed and have been highlighted by Ms. Dill: “Hope remains.”

We have “the ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights,” echoed Ms. Winfrey as she accepted the Cecil B. de Mille award for her outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment at the 2018 Golden Globes. 

As a society, we must balance the fight to end the secrecy of violence that plagues our communities with the need to recognize the light and love in this world in order to show that hope always remains. This Valentine’s Day, instead of honoring romantic love, let’s honor the love of helping others by recognizing three amazing women who are dedicated to #ShatteringTheSilence and making the world a better place.

Sara Elizabeth Dill, International Criminal Law and Human Rights Attorney

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“As far back as ancient history, women have been the victims of gender-based violence. And make no mistake, it is still true today,” said Sara Elizabeth Dill in her TEDx Monte Carlo talk, “Women are not Weapons of War.”

As Ms. Dill mentioned in her presentation, sexual assault is alarmingly common, while the rate of reporting is low. Women are often not believed, or are shamed, threatened, or even exiled, so many consider not reporting their assaults. But women’s stories of harassment and assault have the power to “bring attention to the outrage that reaches every corner of the globe.”

While Ms. Dill acknowledges sexual assault is a global crisis, she also believes a solution exists. She encourages women to come forward to seek help and says men can be allies through their words and actions. 

 “As an advocate, the most important thing is giving the voiceless a voice, standing up for those who are being persecuted or having their civil rights trampled upon,” Ms. Dill said. “The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are two of the most powerful legal documents ever written, and the rights contained in those documents must be upheld and protected.” 

Ms. Dill recommends volunteering with organizations that directly help victims.

“While donating money is vital to an organization’s existence, actually spending time is where our own individual growth occurs — and where we can have the experiences and stories to share with others and inspire them to get involved.” 

Sara Elizabeth Dill has published numerous articles on international law, criminal defense, immigration, human trafficking, and free speech. She has spoken at international and national legal conferences regarding human rights, immigration and criminal law, human trafficking, refugee determination, and national security/counter-terrorism. Ms. Dill had an extensive pro bono practice, representing victims of human trafficking and domestic violence, and successfully litigated asylum and Convention against Torture cases.

Cheryl J. Muir, Author

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In author Cheryl J. Muir’s book, Angel of the Night: The Monster Within, the main character, Angel, learns how to acknowledge her emotions and understand their impact on her daily life. This enables her to experience a relationship as a catalyst for healing.

“She’s afraid of losing herself in [any] relationship, so she isolates and she runs. It’s linked to her fear of intimacy and her abandonment wounds,” Ms. Muir said. The main character learns that she can be more of who she truly is when she’s in the right relationship. 

The healing experienced by Angel is something experienced by many women in real life. Ms. Muir believes the story will encourage women and men to be more open and honest with each other. Angel’s arc touches on important conversations women are having today, such as empowerment with one’s sexuality, consent, and the need to ask for help, offering readers a message of hope through the character’s resilience. 

In fact, healing is one way people can create change, Ms. Muir says.

“The most important thing we can do is to heal ourselves. We spend so much time, particularly as women, trying to heal others and make sure everyone else is OK, when in reality we must heal our own wounds and show up as whole, healthy, emotionally balanced people who then have the capacity to hold space for others,” says Ms. Muir. “And if you feel called to share your lessons, I encourage you to do so via my favorite medium: writing.”

Cheryl J. Muir is an author, media strategist for authors and a former public relations executive. Her clients write books aimed at helping, teaching, and healing. Ms. Muir’s fiction work explores issues of sexuality, consent, and mental health. Her first nonfiction book will explore spiritual relationships as a catalyst for healing.

Angela Rose, Founder of Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment (PAVE)

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Recognized on the CNN Headline News series Breakthrough Women for her advocacy work on sexual assault prevention and survivor empowerment, Angela Rose began community organizing for policy change at the age of 17 after she was abducted from a shopping mall and sexually assaulted by a repeat sex offender who was on parole for murder. Refusing to accept flaws in the criminal justice system that led to the traumatic incident, Ms. Rose turned her “anger, frustration, and hurt into advocacy,” fighting in Illinois for stricter laws against offenders by creating Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a student organization in Wisconsin.

She expanded her advocacy efforts by creating a nonprofit of the same name in Washington, D.C., aimed at empowering people to end sexual violence. PAVE, which now has more than 50 chapters nationwide, offers support for survivors to thrive after trauma and has helped train more than 2,500 professionals and 50,000 college students.

Using the hashtag #ShatteringTheSilence, PAVE is helping unite survivors across the globe and encouraging people to speak out against violence. In her book, Hope, Healing, and Happiness: Growing Inward to Transform Your Life, Ms. Rose writes: “We can’t choose what happens to us but we can choose our response. And the way that we grow from these negative experiences can be used to help other people in their healing process.” 

Ms. Rose believes people can become agents of change if they are open to learning. 

“Become an everyday advocate. Educate yourself on consent, bystander intervention (including the power of language) and how to support someone if they disclose to you,” she says. “Even well-meaning loved ones often react poorly or use language that places the blame on the victim.”

She also believes respect must become the norm. 

“This movement with #MeToo and #TimesUp is creating crucial conversations about consent, equality, and respect that have the ability to create a cultural shift. For far too long, survivors have suffered in silence and were re-traumatized when disclosing or reporting,” Ms. Rose says. “I’m hopeful that we are creating a world where there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment, respect is the norm, and survivors are supported on their healing journey.”

Angela Rose’s advocacy efforts have received worldwide recognition. She participated in the White House launch of the “It’s on Us” campaign, contributed to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, supported the launch of a congressional bipartisan task force to end sexual violence, and recently served as a keynote speaker at Oxford University in England. She has presented at the International Conference on Violence, worked with rape survivors from Uganda, and was invited by the former First Lady of France, Cecilia Attias, to participate in the Women’s Global Dialogue for Action. She was also a speaker at the United State of Women Summit chaired by Vice President Biden.

The work of amazing women like Sara Elizabeth Dill, Cheryl J. Muir, and Angela Rose continues to inspire women and men across the globe. We recognize those who do not want to use a hashtag to publicly announce their experiences, and we acknowledge that violence does not discriminate across gender, sexual orientation, country, social economic status, or any other factor. 

This February, as you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart or Singles’ Awareness Day with your friends, take time to honor victims of harassment and assault and consider how you can help. Think about your social interactions with partners, friends, family members or colleagues, and pledge to have honest conversations to ensure your contact and romantic encounters are consensual and respectful of physical and emotional boundaries. And commit to yourself, your partner, and your friends to bring hope and light into the world so that, as Ms. Winfrey said, we can experience a “time when nobody ever has to say #MeToo again.”

Mental Health Resources

The Family Institute at Northwestern University: Affordable Counseling

Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment: Support & Resources

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN): Confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline; Call 800.656.HOPE (4673)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800.273.8255

Text Crisis Line: 24/7 Support for People in Crisis; Text HOME to 741741

Citation for this content: Northwestern University’s Online Masters in Counseling program.