Organizers of Sunday’s Oscars may be saying that the awards show will be focused on the films being honored and not the widespread discussion of sexual abuse and harassment, but the impacts of the #MeToo movement will still be apparent with the notable absences of stars who have been accused of sexual misconduct.
Locally, the movement’s magnitude and influence has been evident for months at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, where support services have been stretched thin with an “overwhelming number of people reaching out” since the fall, according to BARCC’s executive director Gina Scaramella.
“This issue is an issue that affects people throughout their entire lifespan once they’ve experienced it,” the executive director said of sexual violence and misconduct. “So centers like ours are really tasked with being here whenever somebody needs assistance. That may involve legal services, it may not. It may involve medical accompaniments for people, it may not. People may just need some concrete supports, or they may want to come in for counseling.”
She said that BARCC began seeing an uptick of calls to its hotline in mid-October, after The New York Times and the New Yorker published bombshell articles detailing allegations of sexual assault and harassment against film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
For the months of December and January, Scaramella said the organization had a 110 percent increase in calls requesting legal support compared to the same time period in 2016.
They also saw a 43 percent increase in survivors of sexual violence requesting counseling services during those two months compared to the previous year.
In December, their 24/7 hotline got 34 percent more calls than it did during the same time in 2016.
The impact from requests for information and services from the organization by mid-December was “significant,” the executive director said.
Scaramella said that typically anyone who calls and asks to come in for support services would get an appointment the week they reach out. But in December, she said with the volume of requests being submitted, callers had to wait as long as three weeks to get in for an appointment.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot unless you’re the person in crisis,” she said. “It is a lot, so it is not what we strive for.”
The executive director said there were several needs behind the increased demand for BARCC’s services that occurred as the #MeToo movement gained momentum.
One group of people reaching out were those with past trauma who felt triggered or retraumatized by the constant news about sexual assault and harassment and felt they needed additional support as a result.
“The other reason is for folks who feel like they never talked to anyone and never got support and are now seeing an opportunity to reach out and get that support,” Scaramella said.
BARCC has also seen a large number of people reaching out to see how they can get involved with the organization and give back through its volunteer opportunities and other programs.
“The other impact we’ve seen is survivors themselves feeling sort of a mixed sense of gratitude that these issues are getting to see the light of day,” Scaramella said. “And on the other hand [they are] feeling like there’s no escape from the constant news about more people having reports against them, more trauma, and more of a sense that this is an enormous problem, which of course, at the rape crisis center, we knew it was an enormous problem, but everybody was sort of seeing it in a new way.”
She said staff at BARCC had been hearing about that sense of “overwhelmedness” from survivors since the 2016 election when then-candidate Donald Trump’s lewd conversation about women was revealed in the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
Scaramella said the tape “really took the rug out from under people.”
“The idea that what was just such clear evidence of sexual misconduct and assault was able to be overlooked by so many people who voted for Trump, I think just shook survivors to the core,” she said. “As you look at it now when you see people in much lesser positions of power, in companies and schools and even in Congress, being forced out and not having that same consequence happen when the feelings weren’t different for survivors last year about what they were seeing and he was elected president, so it feels a little like it’s hard to understand. It was hard to understand then, and it’s hard to understand now how that can hold.”
The number of calls coming in to the hotline began to drop in January, according to Scaramella. During the first month of 2018, the emergency line saw just a 10 percent increase compared to the same period in 2017.
“Essentially what happened is that everyone was requesting everything from us and now it’s being pushed down into our program,” she said. “So people called the hotline or had an education or an outreach event with us of some kind and now are coming in for the services, so that’s why you see the big increase in the legal and counseling service requests.”
But the organization is still stretched thin, Scaramella said. They’ve undertaken steps that she described as “Band-Aid-y,” such as developing a priority hiring list and extending stipends for volunteers to cover hard-to-fill shifts until actual staffing increases are possible.
The volume of interest in volunteering didn’t translate to an increase in donations to the organization, she said; BARCC hasn’t seen any new donors or foundations in the philanthropy community reach out yet.
Scaramella is hopeful there will be large turnout and support in April for the organization’s annual Walk for Change.
It’s the first since the #MeToo movement took off, but it also comes as BARCC celebrates its 45th anniversary.
“We’re hoping for a big one,” she said.
In the four months since the floodgates opened with the #MeToo movement, Scaramella said that broadly she thinks that the change today is that the platform for someone who’s been the victim of sexual violence or sexual harassment is “a little more solid.”
“I think there’s a tendency toward belief, more so than not, because people are seeing that this is happening in contexts that tend to protect the information from being known,” she said. “There’s just more of a willingness to believe and understand that this can happen and you could really think the person who’s being accused is great and they still could do something really terrible.”
However, Scaramella pointed out that there are still groups of people whose stories have not been as elevated by the movement and for whom support and being believed is harder to achieve.
“One of the things that is going to continue to be important as these situations in different sectors and types of employment come through is that in every context the people who are marginalized for any reason, whether its race, LGBT, immigration status, wherever they are on the sort of power hierarchy, it will be worse for them,” the executive director said. “They will be harder to identify as people who are victimized, and it will be harder for them to come forward. So special attention needs to be continued to be paid toward just understanding that — that the workplace is [not] a level field.”
Likewise, she cautioned that even with the change and recognition that has occurred as a result of the phenomenon, there remain industries that have not undergone the same scrutiny given recently to the entertainment, gymnastics, and media worlds.
“I think we have a huge long way to go, so it will be really interesting to see what the pathway will be,” she said.