Jaraya Johnson

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — “The one rule,” said Jessica Battista, with a voice of empowerment. “We don’t talk about our story, because our story doesn’t define us.”

Battista is a member of a Winthrop University student group, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Panties, which is dedicated to supporting female survivors of sexual misconduct.

The group, which is organized through the Office of Victims Assistance, is one of the many avenues for survivors in the Winthrop community to get the help they need.

Many members of the Traveling Panties were inspired to join by the #MeToo movement, according to member Desiree Black.

“I am no longer afraid to voice my opinion or show compassion,” said Black. “The #MeToo movement showed me that there are other women out there fighting for the same thing. We are all strong, but most importantly we are all survivors.”

The #MeToo hashtag started trending on social media in October 2017, as women began to take a stand against sexual misconduct, after a number of high profile incidents, including sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Many have credited the movement with encouraging people around the world to come forward and share their stories.

“Discussing (the movement) with my colleagues, there was a big influx of new clients that we have gotten last semester,” said Itali Jackson, Winthrop’s Office of Victims Assistance coordinator.

“I think that number reached to almost 18 new clients after the #MeToo movement and we weren’t thinking that it was because of new sexual assaults. It was just because of the movement that everybody got their voice and wanted to be heard.”

Additionally, the recent release of the six-part documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” on the cable network Lifetime, has brought further attention to sexual misconduct.

The film, which aired Jan. 3, focused on the stories of women who were allegedly assaulted by the self-proclaimed “Pied Piper of R&B.”

However, Jackson worries about the possible reaction to the documentary.

“I am kind of nervous that it might discourage our clients to come in, because of the victim-blaming stuff that is happening on social media. Hopefully, there will be an influx of people that will come in after that documentary was released,” said Jackson.

According the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (or RAINN), roughly 23 percent of female students and 5 percent of male students “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation,” during their undergraduate careers.

“Mostly women come in,” said Jackson. “We do have men that will come in, but ratio wise, we have more female clients than we do male clients.”

After the #MeToo movement, more people are becoming aware there are resources and support groups available.

“People are being so open about their stories and others have the courage to be more open about theirs,” said Battista.

“There was a significant amount of change (in the number of clients) after the #MeToo movement started booming,” said Jackson.