The #MeToo Movement: History, Sexual Assault Statistics, Impact

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If you are a survivor of sexual assault, contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

If you use social media, you've probably seen the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other sites. What started out as a way for survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual bullying to bond and share their stories has become a global movement that has sparked significant changes, both social and legal.

What's more, the movement has allowed survivors to feel supported while simultaneously initiating a national—and worldwide—conversation about the widespread issues surrounding harassment, assault, and the changes that need to be made.

The History of the #MeToo Movement

Tarana Burke, an advocate for women in New York, coined the #MeToo phrase in 2006. She aimed to empower women who had endured sexual violence by letting them know that they were not alone—that other women had suffered the same experience.

Time magazine named Burke as their Person of the Year for 2017, and she's earned the Ridenhour Prize for Courage. Today, as senior director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn, Burke speaks at events across the country.

In 2017, the New York Times published an article accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Actors Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were fearlessly vocal about Weinstein's actions, which empowered many others to share their stories.

In the meantime, actor Alyssa Milano embraced the #MeToo hashtag across her social media. She'd been unaware of the phrase's origins and how quickly it would catch on, thinking of it as a simple way to create awareness, find support, and build a community of survivors.

Alyssa Milano's first #MeToo tweet

Sexual Harassment and Assault Statistics

The issue of sexual aggression is pervasive. Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault, according to a 2018 study conducted by the University of California and the non-profit Stop Street Harassment.

Although the #MeToo movement has accomplished a great deal in little time, some advocates aren't as optimistic about the successes. The issue is still on the public's radar, but sexual assault continues. It's particularly insidious for people who are transgender, Native American women, college students, members of the military, and people of color. Women remain at a higher risk for sexual assault than men. 

Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault, according to a 2018 study conducted by the University of California and the non-profit Stop Street Harassment.

Harassment and assault can be devastating, often leading to substance use, suicide, psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, and other negative outcomes.

Impact of the #MeToo Movement

After Milano's tweet, Twitter users posted the hashtag almost a million times within two days, according to Twitter. The movement spilled over to Facebook, too, where about 4.7 million users shared 12 million posts in fewer than 24 hours. Years later, people continue to share their stories with the hashtag #MeToo across social media platforms.

The response was especially meaningful for people who worked with survivors of sexual assault and harassment on a daily basis, Finally, the issue they had been working tirelessly to address was gaining traction and garnering worldwide attention. The local grassroots effort Burke spearheaded had now expanded to reach a community of survivors from all walks of life.

In the wake of these disclosures, many prominent people in entertainment, sports, and politics have been exposed for sexually harassing or assaulting others.

Thus, the silence surrounding sexual harassment and assault is being broken. Many are now open to and passionate about discussing the issues. The #MeToo movement has prompted sweeping changes, such as:

  • Affirmed for survivors that they are not alone
  • Developed a stronger community where survivors have a voice
  • Demonstrated how widespread the issue is
  • Shifted social norms and opinions about the issue
  • Exposed belief systems that enable abuse
  • Increased compassion for survivors
  • Updated and enacted laws and policies
  • Created avenues for survivors to speak up and share their stories
  • Broke the silence surrounding sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual bullying
  • Destigmatized the issue and made it safe for discussions
  • Punished many powerful men through legal action and negative public opinion
  • Highlighted the need for formal antiharassment policies
  • Prompted several states to ban non-disclosure agreements, which help powerful people hide their actions by buying survivors' silence
  • Created the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which has provided legal representation to thousands of survivors
  • Resulted in new legal standards by the International Labour Organization

What's Next for #MeToo?

Although positive change continues, much work remains to be done.

For example, survivors of sexual assault and harassment still endure victim-blaming, not to mention the threat of retaliation for speaking up. People need education on how perpetrators set up situations to their advantage, sometimes groom their victims, and often get away with harassment and assault.

A prime example is actor Bill Cosby's 2021 release from prison after a Pennsylvania court threw out his conviction for sexual assault, despite ample evidence. He was among the first wave of prominent people to be tried and convicted of such crimes.


Today, the phrase #MeToo is still a sign of solidarity for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram posts featuring the hashtag #MeToo still appear daily—evidence that the #MeToo movement has created awareness and a community of support.

Still, there is so much to be addressed, from changes in federal laws to real safety for survivors who speak up. Society might never be completely rid of this scourge, but efforts continue to uncover such crimes, encourage reporting without retribution, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who started the #MeToo movement?

    New York City women's advocate Tarana Burke first used the phrase "Me Too" in 2006. Her goal was to empower victims of sexual violence and harassment.

  • What effect has the #MeToo movement had on the workplace?

    As awareness continues to build, many companies have enacted anti-harassment policies for their employees. Social pressure also has resulted in a cultural shift that has stigmatized sexually inappropriate behavior at work.

  • What year did the #MeToo movement start?

    Tarana Burke, an advocate for women in New York, first used the phrase "Me Too" in 2006 to draw attention to the problem, in 2017, actor Alyssa Milano's tweet encouraging followers to use the #MeToo hashtag went viral, resulting in widespread exposure and adoption across social media.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stop Street Harassment. 2018 Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault.

  2. Association of American Universities. Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.

  3. Maniglio R. The impact of child sexual abuse on health: A systematic review of reviewsClin Psychol Rev. 2009;29(7):647-657. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2009.08.003

  4. Gravelin CR, Biernat M, Bucher CE. Blaming the victim of acquaintance rape: Individual, situational, and sociocultural factorsFront Psychol. 2019;9:2422. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02422

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. She's also the former editor of Columbus Parent and has countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.