There has been a surge in recent years of women opening up about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault.

Reports have ranged from taking to social media to list the different forms of harassment they have been subjected to—from catcalling when walking down the street to intimidation in the workplace—to making formal accusations of harassment and assault against specific individuals.

So, why has this only just started to come to light and what should you do if you have experienced sexual harassment or assault?

What is the #MeToo Movement?

The idea stemmed from a conversation TaranaBurke once had with a girl she met who confided in her that she had been abused. At the time, Burke didn’t know how to respond but later wished she had replied, “Me too.”

Almost a decade after this conversation took place, Burke founded the MeToo Movement to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and assault.

It would take another decade before the movement would trulytake off, made famous after allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein started coming to light,and actress Alyssa Milan invited people on twitter to use the hastag #MeToo to talk about their own experiences of harassment and assault.

The Me Too expression and hashtag have now been used by millions of people around the world and has created a movement encouraging women to break the silence and force change in society as well as the laws protecting women from these kind of attacks.

Has the movement made a difference?

Women who have been at the receiving end of harassment, assault, and abuse often felt they must be (at least partly) to blame, that they were making a big deal out of nothing, or felt ashamed that it had happened to them, so most did not speak out about what had happened.

The Me Too Movement has allowed more people to feel they can talk about it, whether that is sharing their experiences publicly or privately.

With so many people reporting their experiences, it has also brought about a wider understanding of the scale of the problem and has encouraged others to stand up against harassment whenever they see it during their everyday lives.

Not only that, there have also been changes to laws in response to the revelations coming from the movement, with some states banning non-disclosure agreements covering sexual harassment and the introduction of better protections for workers.

Sexual assault stats

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center(NSVRC) provides some disturbing statistics, reporting that almost 1 in 5 women in the US have been raped at some time in their lives.

However, the self-reported incidence of rape or sexual assault more than doubled in 2017—perhaps in response to the movement—from 1.4 victimizations per 1,000 people, to 2.7 in 2018.

Based on the survey’s data,the NSVRC estimated that 734,630 people were either raped or had rape attempted on them, in the US during 2018.

What to do if you have been assaulted

A sexual act that someone has not consented to (or that they have been forced to take part in against their own will) is an act of sexual assault. It covers not only rape, but a number of other sexual offences too.

The sooner a person seeks help following an assault the better, even if they haven’t decided whether they will report the crime yet. Evidence can still be gathered and will be available if needed.

Whatever a person decides, it is important to seek medical attention, which can help with any physical injuries and provide medication to prevent STIs or pregnancy.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US and heads up the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

RAINN have lots more detailed advice on reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement on their website.

Getting compensation for sexual assault

Many people are not aware that you are able to sue an attacker following a sexual assault.

A successful civil lawsuit can help victims cover expenses relating to medical bills, loss of earnings, and mental health trauma, as well as compensating for pain and suffering and other damages related to the attack.

After seeking medical advice and reporting the crime to the authorities, a person can consider speaking to a law firm who will handle the civil case.

BIKlaw, a firm providing a sexual assault attorney Los Angeles, have more information on launching a civil suit on their website.

Support available

Seeking the appropriate support following a sexual assault is vitally important. The effects of this type of crime can have long-lasting consequences, so seeking support from friends and family (and professional services) is essential.

Once any physical effects have healed, the effects on mental health can continue for years to come. Speaking to a trained counselor as soon as possible can help a person work through the trauma and any feelings they may be struggling with such as guilt, nightmares, PTSD, and depression.

If feelings of fear and sadness are long-lasting, or a person starts to feel suicidal, develops anxiety or eating disorders, or begins to socially isolate themselves, finding a mental health professional experienced in these types of cases can support a person in working towards recovery.

If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted you should support them in seeking professional help such as medical treatment and reporting the crime.

Avoid asking them questions or acting in a way that makes them feel you might not believe what they are telling you. Instead,be present for them, listen to what they have to tell you, and offer comfort.

The HealthPartners website offers more advice on how to best support someone who has been sexually assaulted.

The Me Too Movement does seem to be a power for change, which means the statistics we see today will hopefully begin to become a nightmare of the past. Meanwhile, if you have suffered a sexual assault, know you are not alone and there is help out there for you, and most importantly, you are not to blame and perpetrators are being brought to justice.