DENVER, Colo. — Approximately five years ago, the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal became public and lead to the massive "Me Too" movement. It sparked the sharing and publishing of personal sexual assault experiences across the country and the world. While the movement isn't talked about as much today, advocates say it cannot fade from memory because more work needs to be done.
For many survivors, the "Me Too" movement created a shared space that never previously existed and an opportunity to connect with people who understand their pain.
"I am a survivor of sexual assault that, unfortunately, started when I was about eight or nine years old and continued until I was almost 18," said Jenn M.
The "Me Too" movement was one of the reasons Jenn shared her story.
"It was kind of amazing to be able to just let everybody know what happened and a part of who I am and why some of who I am is because of that," Jenn said.
Telling her story, she says, gave her and so many others a network of support.
"As we hear more about sexual assault, it does reduce the stigma, but it can also be heartbreaking because survivors say, 'I know I'm not alone,' which is a good thing but I also know that I'm not the only one whose case has been dismissed, who wasn't believed even before it went to the criminal legal system, who was talked out of reporting," said Brandi Dye, the Communications and Community Engagement Manager with the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.
"Sexual assault is illegal but that doesn't prevent it from happening," Dye said.
Dye says while a lot of positives came out of the "Me Too" movement, there are many who feel it was also a missed opportunity.
Megan Carvajal, executive director of The Blue Bench, which aims to provide low-cost therapy and other support to victims, believes there could have been more education.
"That, to me, is kind of the biggest fault of the movement," Carvajal said. "Let's start by helping kids and future generations understand consent. What it means to be a good bystander, what healthy relationships are, the differences between harassment, violence, all of these things. There is so much opportunity to help young people break these cycles."
It's something Jenn vividly remembers not having when she was a child.
"I felt like it was my fault and that, you know, there wasn't a discussion about it in school. Yeah, we learned the birds and the bees and sex education repeatedly, but nobody talked about what inappropriate behavior is," Jenn said.
These experts say prevention education could completely change the current reality of sexual assaults.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Dye said.
That trickles into medical facilities where there is a push to train in trauma-informed procedures. An example would be creating less invasive environments for physical examinations, so victims are not retraumatized.
"Not every single hospital or urgent care has a sexual assault nurse examiner or a forensic nurse examiner, but those nurses can still be trained in trauma-informed ways, so they are not accidentally doing more harm," Dye said.
While she works to make changes in the system, advocates say others can play a role by being there when a victim comes forward.
"The most important thing for anybody to hear who has experienced sexual assault, whether they were two or 22 or 92, is that we believe you," Carvajal said.
For more information on The Blue Bench click here. No matter where you are in the country, RAINN offers resources for sexual assault survivors.