The #MeToo movement has dominated the cultural conversation in the year since the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke. Reading countless news stories about high-profile men being accused of sexual harassment or assault (including, of course, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh), it’s possible to convince ourselves that our understanding of consent is growing more sophisticated and behavior is changing for the better. But while there have been some substantive changes in the entertainment industry particularly (as well as plenty of backsliding), for many women sexual harassment and assault remain common occurrences, with perpetrators rarely facing repercussions. We spoke to five women about being assaulted in the year since #MeToo, and whether it changed how they responded in the moment.
Some names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
Lea, 23, actor, London
In February, I went out with my friends and met this guy. It was late; he said he lived really close and invited me to stay at his. I told him as we left that I had to be up early and he said he did too and that we should try to sleep soon after being at his.
In his bed, we kissed and he got on top of me and tried to push his penis inside me. I said I didn’t want to have sex that night and that maybe we could do it another time. He said, “I know you want it, don’t try to pretend, let me fuck you.” He then proceeded to try over and over to put himself inside me. I wasn’t aggressively resisting, just saying no and telling him to stop. Each time he stopped, we would kiss and he’d try straight away again. I was then having to forcibly push him away with my legs each time he’d try because he was kind of trying to catch me off guard, I guess.
I was a bit scared and started crying. He asked me why and I told him that he was scaring me. He said, “It’s not like that at all, I totally get it, it takes two of us to have sex and if that’s not what you want we don’t have to at all.” I felt he understood and soon after we were kissing again, and straight away he was trying again. I decided to do other sexual things to him so that he would stop trying to penetrate me and go to sleep. Eventually we fell asleep and didn’t speak of it again. I don’t think that he sees what happened as wrong.
I don’t think #MeToo affected the way he behaved in the slightest because the movement is so tied to public men. I think success makes people feel like they can get away with anything, but I think that the anonymity of being a normal guy also does. Actors and musicians and producers are only scared to be abusive now because it can affect their careers. The Brock Turners of the world still haven’t been called out.
Kate, 32, editor, New York
I went out on a date with a guy I’d met a few weeks earlier. I got drunk. He got drunk. I brought him home and we had sex. I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t like the way he was treating me.
He was rough and dominant. He forced me to give him oral sex. I pushed back against him when he slammed me into the bed — I tried to indicate it was too much, but he ignored me. I realized what was happening: This was sex I didn’t like. I thought about #MeToo, and bad sex and all the conversations I’d had about consent this year but I was scared. He was bigger than me. I figured when it was over, he would leave and I could go to sleep. After he finished, I told him I had a hard time sleeping in bed with someone, and that he had to leave. He pleaded with me to stay. He said, “Are you really going to make me leave? It’s late. This isn’t fair.” And I don’t know, I guess I was scared. I figured it was easier to just kick him out in the morning.
I thought about #MeToo again, and how I should be able to tell him to go, but I just couldn’t. I fell asleep on the other side of the bed from him. I didn’t want him to touch me. At one point, I woke up — it was still dark outside. And I could feel this pressure in my vagina. He was fingering me. It took me a minute to realize what was happening, but I reacted quickly. I took his hands off me and told him to stop. I said I wanted to go to sleep. I was firm. And he stopped. I fell back asleep. I woke up again, I don’t know when exactly, but his fingers were back inside me. This time, I didn’t move. I figured he was going to do what he wanted whether I wanted it or not, and if I put up a fight it would just be worse. So I lay there, quietly, not moving, until he finished. I lay in bed awake until it was light outside, then I got up and said I had a yoga class and that he had to leave.
I have thought about this moment every day since. Why didn’t I say anything? Why didn’t I kick him out? Why did I freeze like that the second time? Why did I ignore all the signs that he wasn’t a good guy? Sometimes I worry that #MeToo happened too late for me. I’m 32 and maybe I’m too used to men getting their own way.
Erin, 29, journalist, El Paso
A week ago at a friend’s birthday, a guy came up to me at the bar, wrapped his arm around my waist, groped my butt, and asked if I was looking for a good time. My friends and I got him away and later I saw him sitting on the curb with some cops around him. I went up to them and told the officers that man groped me and was making women uncomfortable. The guy said, “Fuck you, bitch, I don’t even know you.”
I don’t think I would’ve approached the police like I did, before #MeToo. I find myself speaking up a lot more now. It makes me tired, too. The news cycle is so exhausting and depressing. I want to believe change is happening, but it’s draining to be reminded that it’s incremental.
Chloe, 23, works at a nonprofit, D.C.
It happened at the end of March. I was at a bar with a friend and she needed to leave because she had a meeting the next morning. I decided to sit at the bar by myself because it’s something I’ve done a thousand times and never thought it to be dangerous before. The bar was close to my apartment. I guess at some point I got really drunk — still not sure how to this day. Not sure if I was drugged or if I truly just drank too much.
Anyway, I was sitting at the bar and these two guys sat next to me. They were talking to me and at some point I kissed one of them. And then at some point I kissed the other guy too. After that, my memory is mostly gone. I don’t remember leaving the bar or how I would have even stood up to leave a bar. My guess is that the two guys physically helped me out. They put me in a car — I have a single flash of someone driving. I woke up the next morning in one of their beds, without any clothes on. There’s no way I could have ever taken off my own clothes in that blacked-out state.
I got home and I didn’t really know what to think of the situation. It didn’t feel good but also rape wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. I tried to retrace my steps and find my phone and wallet. I found out that my wallet was at his friend’s house — a place I never remember being at. I found a leaf in my hair where I obviously must have fallen outside at some point. At some point that day it dawned on me that there is no way I could have given consent, because I was probably mostly unconscious. Since I had no phone, I waited until my roommate came home and borrowed her phone and took myself to the ER. I don’t think #MeToo had any bearing on what the men around me thought of my assault. It’s so easy for people to write off these situations as drunken mishaps. But there’s no way in hell I could have given consent.
Alex, 24 hairstylist, Minnesota
There were two instances with this person I was dating for a few weeks in February/March. First was the night we met, at a night for queer women at a bar. I was single and trying to meet someone. Two drinks in I finally caught the eye of this good-looking person who was dancing nearby and we danced together for a bit before she asked if I wanted to take this to the bathroom to hook up.
I wasn’t trying to have a one-night stand that night so I declined, but suggested we could cozy up on the couches that were on the upper level of the bar. We go up there and next thing I knew we were making out and getting hot and heavy. I was into it but I didn’t really want to do much more than that, especially not in a public place. She just kept touching me and feeling into the low-cut romper I was wearing and was moving my hands onto her crotch and into her pants, while I tried to play it cool and move my hands back to a safer zone.
I continued to date her for a few weeks, and there was another time that I’ve been really struggling with coming to terms with. She stayed the night at my place and that night I really wanted to have sex but she was too tired so we just went to bed. Early in the morning I half woke up and snuggled up against her. Despite her originally telling me at the start of our relationship that she didn’t like to have sex that way — and I told her that I didn’t either — she proceeded to have penetrative vaginal sex with me (to clarify, she was a pre-op trans woman). It happened so fast that I barely had time to at least insist that she put on a condom. So I kind of went with it. I technically consented to it but it all happened to me in a half-asleep-haze that makes me feel really weird about the whole situation.
I feel super complicated about the whole situation, despite #MeToo. The first friend I told about it gave a pretty lukewarm response when I tried talking about it a few months ago, which made me question even more than I already was if I really was right in feeling violated and if it even really was assault, or if I was just turning it around in my head.