The issue of sexual violence is on the lips in Ukraine and Russia. A hashtag #notfraidtospeak (#Янебоюсьсказать), introduced by a Ukrainian activist Anastasia Melnichenko, instantly gained momentum, as many women finally had a chance to talk about their personal experiences of sexual violence. Many of them, for the first time.
The hashtag #notfraidtospeak appeared in Ukrainian and Russian-speaking social media in July of 2016, and after only a few days it had been used in thousands of posts from women of different ages and social backgrounds. All of them have been at some point sexually harassed or abused. Many of them found courage to speak publicly about these traumatic experiences for the first time in many years. A staggering amount of women talked about the incidents that occurred to them, when they were still minors (under 18 years old). Most of the girls have never been able to tell their parents (let alone the police, friends, society) for the fear of being misunderstood or blamed for the incidents. Many of those sexual assaults were carried out by someone from a close circle: friends, colleagues, and even relatives.
The hashtag #notafraidtospeak gained support from many women, including celebrities who had always kept this part of their lives away from the public eye for the same reason of victim blaming.
The issue gained a lot of responses from men as well. Some of them apologised for their own behavior, and for the one of the others. Some commented that they had never realised the scope of the problem, and how much pain the actions considered innocent or fun had actually hurt women around them. Some, unfortunately, resorted to defence and blame. Many comments were made to support a very popular belief that men could not control themselves, when they saw pretty women.
The hashtag #notafraidtospeak has revealed many issues that the Ukrainian, Russian, and possibly global society is facing today. It revealed that due to social pressure and stigmatization many sexual harassment cases go unreported; and the assailants go free. It revealed that sexual violence against women needs to be put on the social agenda. It revealed that boys and girls alike need to be educated about personal boundaries, and understand the implications of breaking them.
On the bright side, the hashtag #notafraidtospeak also revealed the power of social media in tackling social issues and igniting social change. It showed that many women who at had gone through traumatic experiences were not alone; and now they had gained an audience ready to listen, understand, and sympathise.
#women #notafraidtospeak #sexualharassment #Russia