The #MeToo movement was born when American actor Alyssa Milano asked people to tweet “me too" if they had been sexually assaulted, as she had been by disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein. The posts gathered steam across social media platforms. In less than one day, more than 12 million posts, comments, and reactions showed up on Facebook. Some people opened up in detail about their experiences, sometimes revealing their stories for the first time.

One in five women in the United States has been sexually assaulted. Those of us in middle age were taught, explicitly or implicitly, to keep these experiences to ourselves. I kept my rape a secret for decades.

Most women do not want to put themselves through the slut-shaming that often occurs if they bring charges against a perpetrator. The nation watched women’s accounts be discounted over and over, like Christine Blasey Ford, who accused then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when the two were in high school, or Anita Hill, who accused another then-Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment. Both men were confirmed to be on the highest court in the United States, despite these women having come forward. So it is no surprise that few pursue sexual assault and harassment claims when the likelihood of success is small and the personal cost is so great.

But to suffer in silence harms us. I carried a great deal of shame about my having been date-raped in high school because I was drunk when my assault happened. I felt responsible for having put myself in a dangerous situation. So I told no one about it.

Keeping the trauma to myself was like holding a beach ball under water. It took a tremendous amount of emotional energy to keep it down, yet it popped up unexpectedly when something triggered me. Ignoring the trauma contributed to my drinking problem because I wanted the memories to go away. So I anaesthetized my feelings with alcohol.

I also went through much of my adult life being hypervigilant, especially around men and when I was alone. I always lock my doors and am suspicious of men’s intentions. I was an overprotective mother, hoping to shield my children from danger and pain.

If we do not process trauma in our lives, it will damage our mental and emotional health, as well as our relationships. It was not until I allowed some trusted women, including therapists, to bear witness to my pain that I was able to move through and past it. I have attended a rehab for people who were sexually abused or assaulted, as well as Saprea, a free healing retreat held in the eastern and western parts of the U.S. for women who experienced sexual violence as children.

I had to forgive myself and believe that the assault was not my fault, no matter what I was wearing or what I had had to drink that night. If a person cannot or does not consent, it is assault. In the case of my sexual abuse, I had to recognize that I was a child whose boundaries were violated by an adult.

I got to a point in which I could talk about my experiences without crying, which, for me, indicated I was healing. And every time I shared about it, another woman, and sometimes men, shared their story with me. Helping other people assisted in my healing.

I was asked to speak at the National March to End Rape Culture in Washington, D.C., several years ago. After I left the stage, I was swarmed by young women who could not believe that I could speak my truth so publicly. I have turned my pain into a tool to help other women not feel alone and not feel judged.

Therapist, Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith, of, has suggestions for healing:

  1. Make a decision that you no longer want to hold secrets that can harm you.
  2. Seek the help of a professional therapist.
  3. Give yourself time to be able to work towards talking about the trauma, understanding that it may not happen right away.
  4. Recognize that you are taking steps towards freeing yourself from shame and blame.
  5. Seek out support group resources and remain anonymous if you choose; and,
  6. Recognize the silver linings of your trauma, including resilience, strength, and the desire to thrive.

If someone comes to you and reports that she was sexually assaulted, validate her feelings. Assure her that it was not her fault and that she does not have to suffer alone. Let her know of the many resources that exist today that did not exist when we were young, like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in the U.S. Make yourself available to her when she needs you.

The # MeToo movement gave many more of us the courage to speak our truth. The more safe spaces we provide for people to feel empowered to protect themselves and to speak up, the better our society will be. For those of us in the later chapters of life, we must use our voices to help our children, both in our own families and beyond. We can and must break the cycle of violence and of silence. We can find supportive friends, therapists, healing modalities, groups, and partners. We can change ourselves and our culture.

If you have been the victim of sexual assault, consider calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline in the U.S. at 800-656-HOPE (4673) for help and resources. offers free retreats for women who were sexually abused as children. 988 is a new hotline for people in serious mental distress.