#metoo / by Minna Leunig

When I was 12 years old I was followed by a man in his 30’s all the way from Bourke street mall to Southern Cross station (that's about 4 city blocks for those who don't know Melbourne). When I lined up to buy my train ticket home, he stood close behind me and began touching me. Whenever I tried to move forward, he would move forward with me. When I looked around, he winked. I felt frozen with fear, I had no idea what to do. I remember feeling so sick in that moment. My mouth went dry, I felt hot, panicked and completely helpless. I cried for months afterwards, I felt so ashamed. I couldn't understand how he could make me feel so worthless, but that's how I felt. Imagine if it had been worse? 

Since then I have been grabbed, cornered, pushed, yelled at from cars, harassed by taxi drivers, followed down the street by men masturbating and had friends/partners overstep boundaries. I have been made to feel like my body is not my own. I have seen my friends get their drinks spiked and listened to heartbreaking stories about their own experiences of violence/sexual assault/harassment. I can't think of a single woman I know who hasn't experienced this in one way or another. It happens to men too, and I don't mean to discount this - only stress how absolutely commonplace it is in the lives of women, something you just come to expect. 

I have been apprehensive about joining in on the 'me too' campaign for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is quite daunting to speak about such personal matters on such a public platform. One automatically becomes at risk of getting it wrong – expressing things in a way that might exclude or offend. I also didn't want anyone to think I was thoughtlessly 'jumping on the social media bandwagon', or taking space away from those who have experienced more extreme sorts of abuse. In recounting my own experiences, I didn't want to awaken anyones trauma in a way that might be damaging. Additionally, I wasn't sure if any of the things I have decided to mention are generally considered 'traumatic enough' to warrant making a post about, not when others I know of have been through much, much worse (of course I know that comparison in this way is not always helpful – if you feel negatively affected by something then it's real and valid).  However, at the end of the day I strongly believe that bringing these issues to light is desperately important, especially considering the long history of shame and silence that surrounds violence and sexual assault. I want to add to the great myriad of voices that already exist in the hope that the weight of the collective might cause something to shift. 

This is a movement that resonates so powerfully with me, and while it saddens me to witness so many women speak out about their experiences, the sense of solidarity that is emerging is beautiful and overwhelming. Don’t think for a moment that if someone hasn’t shared their own experience of sexual assault/harassment they haven’t experienced it – the reality is simply that many aren't ready or willing to share, and that’s okay. No one should ever feel compelled to disclose what they're not comfortable with. There are things about my past that I have decided not to mention, because I'm just not ready yet.

Men – you can do better. It is your responsibility to actively engage with this and take a stand against it. Talk to that one friend who’s a ‘bit of a creep’, call him out, don’t laugh at sexist jokes to be approved of as ‘one of the boys’, admit mistakes, engage in a conversation about these issues, ask questions, stand up for women when they’re being harassed, listen to them, believe them. Men’s disapproval of this appalling behaviour is sorely needed!

Big love to you all