#MeToo to #What’s Next?

By Jocelyn Contreras

UCI Law held the final presentation of its four-part series titled “#MeToo Making a Movement: Reckoning and Redemption” last Wednesday, April 5.

The series was a collaboration between UCI’s Law Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, the UCI Law Center on Law, Equality and Race and the UCI Initiative to End Family Violence The events presented topics about “the privileging,  silencing and infighting” that the movement grappled with. Past discussions covered sexual misconduct in academic institutions and addressing sexual misconduct in the workplace. All sessions explored the dynamics of power and vulnerability.

Special guest, author, speaker and advocate, Joelle Casteix, disclosed her abuse and her long battle for accountability from the Diocese as well as the school that knew of her abuse by the sexual predator choir director as they hid the evidence from the public.  Casteix believed the new choir director really cared about her well-being even though her parents didn’t. A junior in high school at the time, she was not aware that the new director was grooming her to sexually abuse her for the rest of her high school career. As the choir director got hired to Adrian Michigan College and was promoted to the highest position in the department, Casteix told the university of his acts with several other women who disclosed similar abuse. Nothing happened. She explained the trauma of her abuse and the trust she lost in the people around her.

“The first person to tell me, ‘It’s not your fault. What happened to you was a crime. And I’m sorry,’ was my civil attorney,” said Casteix.

Esther Hatfield Miller had a similar experience to Joelle. She didn’t know that the clergyman who was giving her scripture lessons and converting her parents was a sexual predator. Miller discovered her path to healing through metanoia — the journey of changing one’s mind, heart and soul. She is now a trauma recovery coach for the “From Broken to Breakthrough: Sexual Abuse and Trauma Healing Program.”  

“I needed to become the woman that one young girl needed,” said Miller, as she shared her parent’s negligence after she disclosed her abuse to her mother.

Activist Tarana Burke coined the slogan “Me Too” in 2006. After surviving  sexual assault, Burke decided to take action and work to help young women and girls of color who had also survived sexual assault and sexual violence. Burke’s decade-long work in activism and the strength she found within herself to  survive her attack came from her experience with and the empathy of fellow survivors. Although commonly attributed to Alyssa Milano, whose tweet also brought attention to the issue of sexual assault and caused the “Me Too” hashtag to go viral, the true origins of #MeToo comes from Burke and her work in activism.

The final part of the UCI Law series answered an important question from the audience: “How do we keep the movement going?” Miller answered, “Are you in or out?” She explained the #MeToo movement is an opportunity for those to help and advocate for sexual assault survivors, but only if they are truly committed to the cause. Regarding the momentum of the #MeToo movement, both speakers are anticipating the next step. Miller paralleled the movement to awakening from sleep: people are now realizing the extent to which sexual assault exists and is perpetuated around them. As both women discussed the significance of healing and the difficulty around learning how to trust again after being sexually assaulted, they revealed how they began to move forward.

“Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself,” finished Casteix.