#WhyIDidntReport reveals the power of modern storytelling

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This signed editorial discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. 

As #WhyIDidntReport reveals the harrowing reality of reporting sexual abuse, the movement also demonstrates the power of modern storytelling.

The hashtag—which launched an outpouring of sexual assault stories on Twitter—was created after President Trump challenged the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who’s recently accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

In a series of tweets, Trump claimed if “the attack … was as bad as she says,” Ford would have filed charges earlier.

Naturally, his tweets sparked controversy. Hundreds of people took to Twitter to respond to Trump and share why they didn’t report their own sexual assaults.

Among them was Alyssa Milano, an actress and #MeToo advocate, who said it took her thirty years to tell her parents she was sexually abused.

While the reasons for not speaking up range from a fear of not being believed to feelings of self-blame, each story of sexual assault is a stark reminder many survivors stay silent.

Collectively, the stories indicate the importance of social media—both as a safe space for personal growth and a platform for change.

Whether it’s a famous actress like Milano or a schoolteacher in a small town, widespread access to social media means almost everyone has the chance to tell their story.

The Internet has democratized influence, giving power to those who may feel helpless.

In this case, a hashtag allowed sexual assault survivors to foster an online community, share their experiences, and stand in solidarity with one another. The movement has offered emotional catharsis and empowered others to use their voices, too.

The survivors didn’t need six-figure book deals to tell their stories. All they needed were Twitter accounts—and 280 characters—to express themselves and receive compassion.

While storytelling can be healing, many survivors of sexual assault are reluctant to share their pain. Social media, and movements like #WhyIDidntReport, can help people find the courage to speak up and begin to recover.

Modern storytelling also serves as an effective tool for advocacy and learning. The tweets not only publicized the barriers to reporting sexual assault—they also brought attention to alarming figures, such as the US government’s estimate that two-thirds of sexual assault survivors don’t go to the police.

In the past, the right to speak has been given to those with power. Hopefully, with the help of Internet platforms, all people—regardless of gender, race, or class—will find the resolve to break their silence and the courage to be heard.

Everyone has the right to harness the transformative power of storytelling, and the right to use that power to obtain personal freedom or incite widespread change.

Ally is The Journal’s Assistant Lifestyle Editor. She’s a third-year English major.

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