Activists Cat Brooks, Kat Alexander, Antonia Lassar and Adama Iwu spoke about the impact of the #MeToo movement and addressed sexual harassment in the workplace at a Berkeley Forum event Monday night.
Alexander began the forum, revealing that her older brother molested her when she was 8 years old. At 10 years old, she was raped. At 29 years old, she said she started experiencing “full-blown” post-traumatic stress disorder — a moment she referred to as “the unraveling.”
In order to heal, Alexander said she searched online forums for other survivors’ stories. She found, however, that the comments were “full of victim-blaming, shaming and denial.” Five years later, in 2014, Alexander created “Report It, Girl,” a moderated online platform where sexual violence survivors can share their stories.
“I created ‘Report It, Girl’ as a reaction to a very broken criminal justice system,” Alexander said at the event. “To those of you with your own #MeToo stories, I just want to say to you that I know, from personal experience, healing is possible — I’m on the other side of that.”
Alexander added that most of the work she does is “unpaid,” to which the other panelists and members of the audience nodded and snapped in response.
Iwu, a lobbyist in Sacramento, launched the “We Said Enough” campaign last year, calling attention to sexual harassment in California politics. After having been groped in front of several colleagues, she organized more than 140 women to sign a letter exposing harassment in the Capitol.
According to Iwu, her open letter was initially laughed at.
“And then four people had to resign,” Iwu said at the event. “People aren’t laughing anymore.”
As one of the “The Silence Breakers” who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment, Iwu was one of five women featured on the cover of Time magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” issue for her work.
Though Iwu said she had not been doing activist work for as long as the other women on the panel, she said she is “already tired.” She said at the event that she has gained 10 pounds and that her blood pressure is high because multiple women have called and shared their trauma with her.
Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said at the event that women who speak out against sexual violence can be subject to shaming, stalking and character assassination.
“That’s your obligation — to stand with those women who speak out,” Brooks said at the event.
Brooks is also an actress and became involved with theater at 8 years old.
Lassar, a New York City-based playwright, performer and educator, wrote “Post Traumatic Super Delightful,” a one-woman show about a college community dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault. Lassar said she gave the play its name because there can be “growth after trauma” rather than “disorder or stress.”
At the event, Lassar discussed many factors that impact reporting of sexual harassment and assault. She said people of color who have been abused by other people of color may be unlikely to report for fear of putting that person “into the system.”
Lassar added that “harsher punishments” could decrease reporting because sexual violence is often perpetrated by someone known to the survivor.
“If we’re led to believe that students get expelled for raping someone — which, let’s be honest, is not the case — but if that’s the ethos you believe, you’re less likely to report,” Lassar said at the event.
Iwu said at the event that if people are having the same conversation over and over again about sexual assault, it’s because there are no repercussions. She urged members of the audience to hold people accountable.
“The main takeaway was to be more aggressive — to stop disregarding, to change that conversation,” said campus freshman Amarpreet Kaur, who attended the event. “Seeing these women who have gone through these experiences and are actually making a difference — it’s empowering.”