The #MeToo campaign: What are the next steps?

By Samantha de Wit February 12, 201812 February 2018

The #MeToo campaign: What are the next steps?

The year 2017 will likely be known to many as the year of #MeToo, a social media campaign intended to bring personal stories of harassment and assault to the foreground of public dialogue.

The campaign began with a single sentence from Alyssa Milano, an American actress, “if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” From there it grew into a worldwide movement, with victims of all genders taking a stand against sexual harassment and assault.

The campaign went on to see a number of powerful men “outed” for their inappropriate behavior towards the women, and in some cases men, around them, predominately in workplace circumstances in the entertainment industry, music industry, sciences, academia and politics. 

In America, the predominant focus of the campaign was on the powerful men in the entertainment industry and politics. Time Magazine named “The Silence Breakers”, those that brought their stories of sexual harassment and abuse in America to the forefront, as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017.

In the United Kingdom, the predominant focus of the #MeToo campaign has been in politics, with “outing” of various political figures. This included stories of asking an assistant to buy sex toys and using sexual slurs towards her, to allegations of pornographic material on work computers.

In Canada, we saw our own version of the #MeToo campaign.

In a country where a 2014 Angus Reid Survey found that an estimated more than one million working Canadians have experienced sexual harassment at work within the last two years, this campaign continues to be relevant.

After everything the #MeToo campaign was able to bring forward in 2017, the question then becomes how supporters of the #Me Too campaign build from here, in an effort to change not only the actions that became too common, but also the systemic views on this type of behavior. There has been significant analysis and dialogue since the #MeToo campaign about how, we as members of society, move from identifying and shaming perpetrators to addressing the core issue itself so that this type of behaviour does not continue to occur.  

In the entertainment industry, the #MeToo campaign has led to the Time’s Up Movement, which has set up a legal defense fund in the United States to support lower-income women seeking justice for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and to advocate for legislation to punish companies that allow that type of behavior.

In February 2015, the CBA Council passed a resolution calling for the end to sexual harassment in the workplace. In response, the National Women Lawyer’s Forum launched the #WriteYourWrong campaign, inviting lawyers, male or female, to write anonymously about their experiences with sexual harassment in the legal practice. The campaign received 48 responses from men and women, with a wide range of behaviours experienced by the responders.

On March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day, the CBA National Women Lawyer’s Forum launched the “Not Just a Bystander” Podcasts, one in English and one in French, with a different panel of presenters in each. The speakers spoke about what sexual harassment and assault may mean in legal terms, the psychological reasons that it occurs, and what we can do as lawyers, as clients and as members of a society to address the problem.

What do you think is the logical next step of what took place under the #MeToo campaign? What do you think is the likely next step?

Samantha de Wit is a lawyer with Brown Henderson Melbye in Victoria. She’s the co-chair of the Women Lawyer’s Forum (Vancouver Island) – CBABC

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