Months After #MeToo, Millions Still Searching Online For Help Against Sexual Violence Interview with:

John W. Ayers, PhD, MA Vice Chief of Innovation | Assoc. Professor Div. Infectious Disease & Global Public Health University of California San Diego

Dr. Ayers

John W. Ayers, PhD, MA
Vice Chief of Innovation | Assoc. Professor
Div. Infectious Disease & Global Public Health
University of California San Diego What is the background for this study?  

Response: The greatest barrier to understanding trends around sexual violence is they are largely hidden because victims are unable speak up publicly.

Moreover, ongoing monitoring relies on proxies that underreport the
scale of the problem such as police or medical records where only the
most severe instances or a fraction of all instances of sexual
violence are represented. As a result, we know very little about the
scale of America’s sexual violence problem.

It was this backdrop that inspired #MeToo to call on victims to
publicly voice their stories thereby revealing the scale of the
problem. Our goal was to, for the first time, assess how this change
inspired the public to engage with sexual violence issues.

By tracking private aggregate internet search query trends we can
begin to understand the scale of public engagement with issues around
sexual violence including the precise motivation for a search, such as
reporting episodes of sexual violence or learning how to prevent
sexual violence. What are the main findings?

Response: Our study reveals that even months after the beginning of #MeToo
millions more than otherwise expected are seeking out help for sexual
violence online.

Sexual harassment and/or assault searches increased 86 percent
following the #MeToo movement and have remained higher for 8 months.
Not only did searches for sexual harassment and/or assault
significantly increase — searches specific to training and reporting
also increased 51 percent and 30 percent, respectively, indicating
that people were potentially changing their behavior in the post
#MeToo era. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Revealing this record setting and sustained engagement is a call to
action for the nation. Survivors face serious health consequences
including physical injury, PTSD symptoms, and emotional trauma. Yet,
public investments in preventing and responding to sexual violence is
disproportionately small compared with other health issues. With
millions more than ever voicing their needs, our nation’s leaders
should respond by investing in enhanced prevention training and
improving resources for survivors.

When victims seek out help online it is imperative they linked to
evidenced based and effective resources. The same can be said for
seeking out prevention resources. Investment in understanding these
needs, developing responsive resources, and disseminating those
resources are needed now. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: MeToo is not the first movement to empower victims of sexual
violence, but what is unique compared to past movements is #MeToo’s
staying power. Eight months since the initiation of #MeToo millions
more than expected are seeking out help for sexual violence online.
#MeToo’s sustainability, and our study alerting leaders to this, could
yield major wins for the nation’s public health. 


Caputi TL, Nobles AL, Ayers JW. Internet Searches for Sexual Harassment and Assault, Reporting, and Training Since the #MeToo Movement. JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 21, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.5094

Dec 26, 2018 @ 2:33 pm

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