In 2019 Annual Conference

Written by Kelly Corder, APR, Capital Chapter

On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted encouragement for sexual assault survivors to share their stories on the social media platform. Within a year’s time, the hashtag had been used over 19 million times. One tweet, one hashtag, and a movement was born. #MeToo initiated a national conversation about sexual assault and the abuse of power to victimize.

Skilled PR practitioners are adept at navigating difficult subject matter, but #MeToo presented new challenges for the profession. In her presentation, Bianca Sabrkhani shared how the Victim Service Center of Central Florida and the survivors who use their services were impacted by the grassroots movement.

What is the Victim Service Center of Central Florida?

The Victim Service Center of Central Florida is the Certified Rape Crisis Center in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole Counties. The nonprofit serves all victims of sexual assault, violent crime, and traumatic circumstance through free and confidential crisis intervention, therapy, advocacy, and outreach.

What Were Some of the Struggles of #MeToo?

  • Social pressure to share. A feeling of obligation to participate in the movement.
  • Media attention. Negative commentary and exposure of the survivors of crime.
  • Law enforcement. Intense pressure to report the crime to the authorities.
  • Re-victimization. There is a delicate balance to supporting survivors without re-victimizing them (i.e. reliving the assault).

How Did the Center Navigate the Movement?

  • Further developed clear and specific language
  • Focused on the mission of healing
  • Released messages that were 20 seconds or less:
    • “We believe you.”
    • Details about how to access care
    • The helpline number: (407) 500-HEAL
  • Cleared up misinformation about the healing process via Facebook Live.
  • Participated in numerous interviews, but refused to put a survivor on camera to curtail re-victimization.

After #MeToo

  • Objectives: providing hope, creating change, and producing innovative ideas
  • The organization shifted to campaigns that did not put the burden on the survivors. For instance, #DenimDay is held on the last Wednesday in April and is an act of solidarity with survivors of sexual crimes.
  • The nonprofit is diligent in analyzing which movements they associate with and promote.
  • The Center updated its logo to more gender-neutral imagery in an effort to be more inclusive.

Facts About Sexual Assault:

  • Most survivors are assaulted by someone they know
  • What is rape culture? An environment where rape is prevalent and sexual violence is normalized.
  • Anyone can be a victim. One out of thirty-three men have been sexually assaulted.
  • There are many other struggles associated with sexual assault. There are also financial, emotional, and safety issues that may impact survivors.

In Bianca’s own words, “Desperation can lead to innovation.” In the midst of #MeToo, survivors found a community and a voice, initiating significant social change. A social movement that impacted the way society views sexual assault, the abuse of power, and the ways in which we talk about them.

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