According to a New York Times report published on Wednesday, it seems like #MeToo has led to more New York sex crimes being reported. The #MeToo movement began in October shortly after The Times published a scathing set of sexual misconduct accusations against film tycoon Harvey Weinstein (who denies allegations of nonconsensual sexual activity). The newspaper reported that while major crimes like murder, robbery, burglary, and rape were at an overall historic low, reports of rape are on the rise compared to years prior. And the timing suggests it could have a lot to do with the movement that's come to define 2017.
The Times analyzed reported crimes in New York City and noted that there was an increase in reports of rape toward the end of 2017 — an uptick that coincides with the stunning Weinstein report. In fact, New York Police Department officials told The Times that they credited the #MeToo movement for encouraging victims to come forward with their experiences.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill told the newspaper,
We can't answer definitively. At least I can't. But we're seeing people coming forward and having faith in the NYPD. And that's what we want to happen.
In October, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged victims of sexual assault to step forward and share their stories under #MeToo. "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted, write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," she posted. The purpose of the hashtag, in addition to influencing positive change, was to tell victims one thing: You are not alone in your anger and pain. Historically, however, the "Me Too" chant goes back to grassroots activist Tarana Burke. Burke, who helps run Girls for Gender Equity nowadays, told Bustle that the declaration of "me too" was meant to help young girls hurt by sexual abuse.
It's really no surprise that New York City's police department saw a boost in reports of sex crimes after #MeToo went viral. After all, the hashtag got responses from some 1.7 million women and men from over 85 countries. The phrase has even been translated in different languages. The Italian version, for instance, is called #QuellaVoltaChe, which means "that time when [...]" and is followed by stories of sexual assault. And in France, the hashtag became #BalanceTonPorc. It's a clever phrase which roughly means, "Snitch on your pig."
The hashtag, combined with the New York Police Department's new approach to interviewing sexual assault victims, could encourage even more women to come forward. In December, the department told the Wall Street Journal that it was going to use the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview method. In other words, instead of limiting questions to who, what, when, where, and why, detectives will ask accusers how they felt during their traumatic experience. This is supposed to help the victim bring out critical and often elusive sensory information to zero in on the criminal. The sounds, sights, taste, and smell they might remember can help detectives capture the abuser.
Even analysts and leading figures on gender equality and safety for women say the hashtag could lead to social change — that is, if men pitch in. Toni Van Pelt, head of the National Association of Women told CNN, "We must focus on the men. We must be demanding that the men step forward and take responsibility, whether they think they are the good guy or not. They are not the good guy if they are not speaking out against this, if they are allowing the bullying to continue." So, although women may now feel safer to report sex crimes, it's important to remember that those crimes shouldn't be happening in the first place.