#MeToo has sparked a big discussion in our country, in our community, in our newsroom. Conversations are happening at dinner tables, among friends, on social media.
But while the movement holds political stigma, the heart of the movement is nonpartisan. Sexual assault is an issue in our country and our community — and it’s not a women’s issue. It’s a community one. It’s a cultural one.
A team of reporters and I started talking about localizing the #MeToo story nearly a year ago, debating how to look at the ways sexual assault has affected those who live and work here. As we started kicking around ideas, we all came back to the question: Why now? Why do women wait to make these accusations?
The question was often asked more as an accusation — “There must be some maneuvering going on here” — but we wanted to explore it in earnest. Why do women wait?
As we started reporting the story I spoke with Starr Sonne at the Community Safety Network. I asked her about connecting with survivors of sexual assault. Her response? “Ask your friends.”
If #MeToo has highlighted anything it’s the commonality of sexual assault.
The cover of this section shows the faces of three of the women, all of whom took different paths to the moment when they spoke out about their assault. One waited 35 years to speak. One waited nearly 40 to say anything publicly. The other talked about her trauma immediately.
And then there’s an empty chair.
That seat is for women — a lot of women — who are part of this conversation but have not or cannot come forward. Very few women report their assault to police. Many don’t even tell their friends.
We talked to survivors of sexual assault from various backgrounds, local and statewide experts. There is science behind how the human brain processes trauma, which may offer some explanation of why victims don’t speak sooner. There’s also a human side that can’t be underscored enough — when something traumatic happens, it’s hard to process.
Please take the time to read and digest this project. Tell us your stories, give us your feedback. And maybe, more importantly, share your ideas for how we can change this culture and make our community safer.
— Melissa Cassutt, Deputy Editor