Arkansans sit down to talk about #MeToo campaign

River Market patrons react to the #MeToo social media campaign that is centered around increasing awareness to the numbers of women who have been sexually assaulted.

Ever since Hollywood Producer, Harvey Weinstein was publicly shamed with allegations of systemic harassment and assault, women have come forward across the globe sharing their stories of assault, many for the first time.

Alyssa Milano, who co-starred on "Charmed" with Rose McGowan, one of the Weinstein accusers, challenged the Twitter-verse to use the #MeToo hashtag if they've dealt with verbal harassment or sexual assault.

#MeToo has been tweeted more than a half a million times, but for many, it is much more than just a hashtag. The issues of verbal and sexual assault run much deeper than social media.

We wanted to know; how did we get to this place, and what do we do to end it? So we took a sign, and two chairs down to the River Market... and asked.

"What do you think about this #meToo campaign that is just sweeping the country", I asked.

"I think it's a very positive thing. I was actually surprised with how many people engaged. I actually engaged in it a little bit myself yesterday,” Mariah Hatta told us. She was the first person to sit down with us.

"#Not me would be a lot more efficient because in my mind there would be only a handful of women that haven't been harassed, at least harassed, possibly violated,” Simone Cannon said as she walked past us.

We invited her to also sit down. I asked the women if they felt comfortable sharing their experiences with us. They both agreed.

"When I was going to university and I had to pay my way through, I was working as a cocktail waitress in restaurants. In there, it is rampant. You just show up for work and you're harassed from day one,” Cannon explained.

Hatta had a similar experience.

"I think many of the people had much more traumatic experiences than I, but when I started thinking about it, there were way too many instances where I have experienced not assault, but harassment, which I think is based on the fact that it is acceptable, but also because I'm a woman."

"How do you think we got to this point where we have to have a hashtag, or we have to hold up a hashtag to get that conversation going,” I asked them. Matta blamed the current political culture.

"In the last year, since the election, a lot more people are civically engaged for various reasons. This is an outreach of that. You hear so many bad stories, you can't sit still anymore. You can't be silent anymore. So that's how we got here, I believe."

Cannon blamed fear.

"Little Rock has really gone through a lot of changes in terms of racial segregation. But I don't know that a lot of sexism has been addressed that way. I think a lot of women are afraid to say things. They're afraid of losing their job, or perhaps not getting a good grade in university. or being ostracized by their community."

Kwasi Harshaw, a student at Pulaski Tech, agreed to give us insight from the male perspective.

"Do you think this is a female problem, or both genders,” I asked him.

"I think it's a problem for both genders, because men can be assaulted to,” Harshaw said. "I've been verbally assaulted and it's not right, and I really think we need to stop it."

Based on the conversations I had, it's clear sexual harassment and assault are issues that spread far and wide,

"What do we do? What do we do to stop this cycle that just continues to permeate, and now that we have social media, can permeate even further,” was my final question.

"That's a really big question. There's so many different angles to it. First of all, we have to make it comfortable and safe for people to talk about their experiences. To realize they're not alone. And to share with others so they can heal faster,” Matta said, adding that having a zero tolerance work-environment is also a must.

“I think we need to address the issue with our teenagers and our young people. We need to tell our young people that it is not okay to rape women. Or it is not okay to rape men. It is not okay to sexually abuse someone. Because that’s just not right. It’s an invasion of privacy, and also be a good idea if we talked to our children about it,” said Harshaw.

Cannon said courage, and lots of it.

"When you're at your work, are you actually going to confront your boss? Maybe not. That's what it really comes down to: confronting people. Are you going to put yourself in a law suit? That's a big decision," Cannon said. "It's a personal decision. That's where the real change would come through, the grassroots change. You've got to have a lot of courage to do something like that, to put yourself in harm's way."

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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