The rise of the #MeToo movement shows that women aren’t afraid to speak out against sexual harassment and assault. Women of Hollywood have been especially outspoken in this movement, revealing a seedy underside of the entertainment business sidestepped for decades.

It all started with the revelation of an open secret: Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood powerhouse, allegedly sexually assaulted many women. Alyssa Milano responded with the tweet that started #MeToo:

With such an impact, it’s time to reevaluate how our society characterizes and discusses sexual harassment and assault in legislation, classrooms, and entertainment. What have we conditioned ourselves to believe about how men treat women in the past, and how should it change? Especially since so much of this real-world change has emanated from Hollywood, it’s up to movie makers to exemplify the changes we need.

Content warning: This post discusses rape, assault, and harassment as well as statistics and experiences surrounding assault.

Facts About Sexual Assault

Around 20% of women and one out of every 71 men will fall victim to rape at least once in their lifetime. Ninety-one percent of rape victims are women, and in 80% of cases, the rapist was not a stranger. Eight percent of rapes occur in the workplace.

Rape victims commonly experience PTSD, increased healthcare and legal costs, and lifelong trauma. Sixty-three percent of all sexual assaults are not reported to police officials. 

While the experiences of victimized men are important and deserve a conversation, the #MeToo movement mainly focuses on the experiences of women.

Sexual Assault in Movies: Life Before the #MeToo Movement

With such high statistics regarding sexual assault, it would make sense that filmmakers want to connect with countless women who have experienced sexual assault. 

Can you imagine a world in which one in five women characters was a victim of sexual assault? That’s not the current portrayal, and it contributes to the invisibility of sexual assault in everyday life and in Hollywood in particular. 

#MeToo and Coverage

Like other businesses, movie studios realize they must immediately address the situation of sexual harassment, especially now that more women are speaking up about it.

Workers’ compensation will not cover this type of issue, so separate insurance must be purchased by employers, unions, and employees if all parties want harassment protection.

What It’s Like to Realize “MeToo”

Sometimes connecting with #MeToo” isn’t direct. It’s not remembering all the awful Hollywood (or non-Hollywood) experiences you’ve had, on-set or off. It’s hearing about an experience with a certain man in the business and realizing he’s been just as slimy, gropey and disrespectful to you. #MeToo is not about making up or re-envisioning experiences; it’s about realizing how deeply you’ve been conditioned to accept behavior that is not only unacceptable but illegal.

It’s not always about the obvious stereotype (“sleep with me to get the job”) or even about rape (although that happens all too frequently as well), but the sexual comments, the overtures that make you uncomfortable, and the unwanted and lingering touch.

Fortunately, sexual harassment survivors have rights — but emotionally, it’s usually a long fight. Some populations, such as those experiencing homelessness, are even more vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment. #MeToo can help us stick together and support each other.

How Can Filmmakers Respectfully Represent Sexual Assault Survivors?

Approaching the use of sexual assault in movies is tough when almost three-fourths of movies are directed by men who are undoubtedly affected by culture as they experience it and content as they consume it. Most pornography, for example, is made by men, for men, and sexualizes young women in a harmful and objectifying way. 

Regardless of what mainstream movies do to handle themes of sexual assault tastefully, 98% of men still consume a high amount of adult content capable of literally rewiring their brains to normalize the idea that women’s bodies exist for men’s gratification — an idea that strongly challenges a woman’s right to say no. Pornography itself isn’t immoral, but it’s usually created for the male gaze and presented without additional context. It’s likely that any male director is one of those 98%, and while their intention may be to depict sexual assault respectfully, the impact may not be there as a result.

Only one out of 22 movies have a woman director, and this seriously affects the ability for women’s stories to be told accurately or respectfully, especially when it comes to surviving rape. The best way for Hollywood to accurately represent sexual assault and survivorship is to support more survivor-made stories. 

Written and directed by Jessica S. Thompson, The Light of the Moon is a timely and appropriate example of the respectful portrayal of sexual assault in films. The main character is a woman named Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz), a successful professional who copes with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Another example is HBO’s The Tale. Director Jennifer Fox chose to depict graphic rape scenes and discussions of rape central to her real-life experience. In this film, the rape scenes depicted are:

  • Gritty and show rape of a child (with adult body stand-ins)

  • Based on real-life experiences

  • Behind explicit content warnings

  • Shown to tell a story, not to excite an audience

  • Intending to start a conversation about child sexual abuse

  • Centering power dynamics when depicting rape or discussions of it

The #MeToo movement is fighting an uphill battle, but there are some bright spots in film hoping to create some forward momentum. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring survivors of sexual assault have the power to create, access and support movies that handle sexual assault and educating non-survivors who are making films and watching them.

Are you experiencing difficulty coping with sexual assault? Please contact these organizations if you need support:

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