A step forward

The year of 2018 has had many notable movements and moments, but one of the most culturally shifting has been the #MeToo movement, which began in 2017 and continued to pick up steam throughout this year.

The movement, which serves as a platform for victims of sexual assault and harassment to speak up against their attacks and attackers, has made an impact in many corners of society, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill and in everyday lives.

Although not without its problems, #MeToo has made many victims – male and female – feel safe to report crimes against them and seek justice with lessened feelings of shame. There’s less victim blaming, more accountability for those who commit sexual harassment and assault and less of a taboo when it comes to discussing these crimes in public. Even with those positive shifts there’s a long way to go, especially in regard to criminal justice of these cases, according to a new Associated Press report.

The clearance rate – or number of crimes ending with charges by those recorded – for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data provided to the AP. Across the U.S., police reportedly closed just 32 percent of rape investigations in 2017, according to the data.

There’s much debate, according to the AP, as to what is causing this downward trend. Most experts seem to attribute it to police departments having inadequate resources for these crimes and the issues departments face in investigations. Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Often, the AP reports, those who do report these crimes don’t do so until weeks, months or even years have passed, which makes the investigation process difficult.

Supplying police departments with resources and education to properly handle these crimes should be a top priority for local, state and federal governments.

“This is the second-most serious crime in the FBI’s crime index,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia in an AP interview, “and it simply doesn’t get the necessary resources from police.”

While we can advocate and appeal to our governing bodies to see this through, most of us don’t have direct control over law enforcement resources. So what can be done day-to-day to help ensure victims of sexual harassment and assault can seek justice?

We can work together to lessen and even remove the stigma surrounding sexual assault and harassment. We can educate ourselves on societal concepts and norms that create an environment for perpetrators to thrive – things like rape culture, victim-blaming and general sexism. We can realize that rape and sexual assault are not exclusive to women, but can affect people of varying demographics. We can try to empathize with victims to understand just how much sexual abuse affects them and not judge their responses to such a traumatic event. We can say something if we see someone experiencing abuse or harassment.

Regardless of how you feel about the #MeToo movement or those associated with it, there’s something positive to be said about lessening the stigma around reporting sexual assault and harassment. If someone feels safe enough to come forward, whether because of the “safety in numbers” concept or just a supportive community, then that is a step forward and due process and justice can prevail.