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Survivors Used #MeToo to Speak Up. A Year Later, They’re Still Fighting for Meaningful Change

13 minute read

The morning after Chloe Dykstra posted an essay online, she woke up and checked Twitter, as she does every day. “I opened trending and saw my face,” she says. “It was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. I was just like, ‘No, no, no.'”

Dykstra had written about what she described as an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with an unnamed ex-boyfriend. With a little investigative work, the Internet quickly identified her ex as Chris Hardwick, host of the Talking Dead show and founder of Nerdist. (Hardwick denied the allegations.) At first her account was flooded with encouraging messages. “Then the tide kind of shifted,” she says. “I was attacked relentlessly. There was an organized group of people online whose sole purpose was to try to disprove me. I was terrified people were going to figure out where I lived.”

In the glorious first moments of a revolution, shots ring out, tyrants fall, and visionaries rally the exploited. Last year, that rallying cry was #MeToo, and as the hashtag went viral, with survivors sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment, hundreds of alleged abusers lost their positions of power.

What some dismissed as a moment a year ago evolved into a sustaining movement. In September, CBS head Les Moonves stepped down after six women accused him of harassment–allegations he denies. And Christine Blasey Ford has brought into question the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who she says assaulted her at a high school party in the 1980s, an allegation he denies.

For decades, the public ignored or ridiculed claims of harassment or assault. Now the news of the day suggests women are more likely to be heard. But away from the headlines, it’s not so simple. In a national poll of 1,000 women conducted by TIME with SSRS, 60% of the women surveyed felt the environment for women in their workplace had not changed since #MeToo, and 51% say they are no more likely to report sexual harassment now than before the hashtag went viral.

As the dust settles and the public’s attention drifts, survivors and activists attempt the complicated work of creating lasting change–collecting signatures for new legislation, pushing to eradicate boys’ clubs by urging the hiring and promotion of women, and assuring that the movement continues, especially in average workplaces. And that’s all while dealing with what comes after publicly declaring #MeToo.

“After months of reading horrible things about myself, I got to such a low point that I considered ending it,” Dykstra says. “I didn’t really have guidance because you can’t really Google, ‘How to handle being an accuser?'”


When Trish Nelson took the stage in front of hundreds of chefs and restaurateurs at a conference in Copenhagen last month to talk about how they could improve kitchen culture, she froze. “I was terrified that I’d be booed off the stage,” she says. “Finally I put down the script and just told them, ‘I’m one of the women who came forward about Mario Batali and Ken Friedman.'” She’d already faced criticism for speaking out, and as she surveyed the crowd, she recognized friends and fans of celebrity chef Batali and prominent restaurateur Friedman, whom Nelson and nine other women had accused of grabbing them and making sexual comments in Friedman’s New York restaurant the Spotted Pig. (Friedman has disputed aspects of the accounts but apologized for his “abrasive” behavior. Batali has said he doesn’t recall specific events but apologized for general behavior and is currently under investigation in New York and Boston following allegations of other assaults.)

Yet Nelson was pleasantly surprised when, afterward, dozens of chefs approached her to talk about how they planned to hire more female sous chefs or make their kitchens friendlier to female servers. Since coming forward in December, she has become an advocate for the fair treatment of women in restaurants, where some 80% of waiters and waitresses report experiencing sexual harassment at the hands of guests and chefs, according to a 2014 national survey.

While the cultures of individual restaurants are determined by the attitude and whims of their owners and chefs, workers have been taking matters into their own hands. On Sept. 18, McDonald’s employees walked out in what organizers called the first nationwide strike to protest workplace sexual harassment. They say the fast-food chain failed to make changes after employees filed 10 complaints of sexual harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May. (McDonald’s said in a statement that it is currently “engaging third-party experts” to “evolve our policies, procedures and training.”)

In other areas of the service industry, survivors are making some progress. Housekeepers are routinely vulnerable to attack by guests; a 2016 survey of Seattle hotel workers found 53% of housekeepers had experienced harassment or assault at work. In July, the Hands Off Pants On ordinance, which mandates that hotels equip employees with portable emergency-contact devices, went into effect in Chicago and labor advocates are working to push similar laws in states like California. This month, five major hotel chains—Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, Marriott and Wyndham—pledged to equip housekeepers with panic buttons.

But other hotels remain resistant to change. Over a year after Dana Lewis alleged that two fellow employees at New York City’s Plaza Hotel harassed her—one following her into a supply closet and forcibly kissing her on three different occasions—only one had been fired. (The Plaza says the other was suspended for two weeks after an arbitration hearing.) She joined a class-action lawsuit against the hotel two months before #MeToo went viral and has taken medical leave from work on the orders of her psychiatrist to cope with the emotional strain of having to work with her alleged attacker. “I do feel like the push was extremely strong last year,” Lewis says. “But it’s dying down just from my own experiences with the Plaza. Nothing has changed there. It’s still toxic.” She cannot afford to leave the job; she’s a single mom, with a daughter to support.

In California, hotel worker Juana Melara–who spoke out last year about being flashed and propositioned by guests on multiple occasions while she cleaned hotel rooms–left her job to put in long hours walking door-to-door collecting signatures for a bill like Hands Off Pants On in her area of Long Beach.

“The hotels had a chance last year four weeks before #MeToo became viral to support similar protections. They didn’t,” Melara says. “Now we’ve collected 46,000 signatures to try to pass the Working Woman’s bill. We wouldn’t have had to do that if they had just supported the law last year. But they can’t see past their noses.”

"I didn’t really have guidance because you can’t really Google, 'How to handle being an accuser?'" says Chloe Dykstra
"I didn’t really have guidance because you can’t really Google, 'How to handle being an accuser?'" says Chloe DykstraDavid Muller

Advocacy can take a toll. “I don’t know whether to call myself a victim or survivor,” says Jessica Howard, who struggled with depression as she relived the abuse she suffered from former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, now serving up to 360 years in prison. “I had a dark 2017,” she says. “It was a life-or-death situation for me in January.”

Howard was among the first three women who came forward about Nassar and one of the 156 women who testified at his sentencing hearing. In the winter, the world watched as they took the stand, one by one, to share their experiences in a testimony that took days, and accumulated the same overwhelming effect that #MeToo had the day that ordinary women flooded social media with their experiences. But for Howard, the fact that so many women had to take the stand in order for any action to be taken remains disconcerting. “I’m still struggling with the fact that it almost takes hordes of people to make it out of the ‘he said, she said’ realm,” she says, “for a woman or girl or child to even be taken seriously.”

After the testimony, the president of Michigan State University resigned, the athletic director retired, and Nassar’s boss was charged with crimes related to sexual misconduct. The university will pay out $500 million to the girls and women Nassar abused. The entire board of USA Gymnastics and the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee resigned as well, but Howard and other survivors are pushing for a complete overhaul of the sport. “They said it was just a Nassar problem,” she says. “Those organizations institutionally groomed us and handed us on a platter for a sexual abuser. Had they revealed what they knew years earlier, dozens of girls would never have been molested.”

While Howard continues to work as an activist, some women want to exercise their right to be heard, then simply move on with their lives. Lindsay Meyer’s proudest moment in the past year came when she was featured in a story on a local San Francisco blog, not because of her role in the #MeToo movement but because her startup, Batch, was celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Meyer, who spoke up last June about the harassment she says she endured from venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck, who invested in her previous company, doesn’t want to be defined by her role in the movement. (Caldbeck apologized to the women he “made uncomfortable” and resigned from his VC firm.) Change is slow in that world too: a recent poll by LeanIn.org found that men are more hesitant to interact with female subordinates in the wake of #MeToo. “I think aside from a few nasty VCs who were ousted, the same decisionmakers are still enthroned,” Meyer says. “You’ve got more of a PR campaign about why female investors have better returns, but to me it’s a lot of messaging.”

Such halfhearted attempts at change can be discouraging to advocates, as they watch powerful men resume their lives mere months after losing jobs over allegations of misconduct. Ryan Seacrest returned to E! after the network quickly cleared him of accusations of harassment that the host denies. Louis CK, who admitted to exposing himself to female comedians, quietly performed a stand-up set at a comedy club. And Chris Hardwick returned to host his show on AMC after a roughly two-month suspension after Dykstra’s accusations.

“When I found out he had gotten his jobs back, I was actually relieved because I knew [the online harassment] wasn’t going to stop until he was reinstated,” Dykstra says. Still, the vitriol has yet to abate.


Save for the uproar that follows a new accusation, public enthusiasm for the cause also appears to be fading even in the entertainment industry. In January 2018, the women who helped launch Time’s Up wore black to the Golden Globes to protest sexism and invited anti-harassment activists as their guests. This year’s Emmy Awards passed without any explicit mention of #MeToo.

Time’s Up has, however, set up a $21 million legal-defense fund for women who suffer from harassment and assault at work in any industry. They’re also pushing for entertainment-industry unions to create new codes of conduct that hold employers, rather than individuals, responsible for harassment in an industry where women account for 2% of cinematographers, 8% of directors and 10% of writers.

“We have been working on this issue for 25 years,” says Mily Treviño-Sauceda, co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, or National Farmworkers Women’s Alliance, and herself a survivor of harassment. “There were women who came to us before this year and told us what happened but didn’t want to publicly say anything because they felt shame. But when women in our community started seeing women in L.A. and women from different industries stopping the silence, they wanted to give a voice to the issue.” The organization wrote a public letter of support after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and marched alongside actors. But still, she says, it’s hard to bridge the cultural divide between the farmworkers and Hollywood.

There are other challenges. In August came the revelation that Asia Argento, an Italian actor and one of Weinstein’s original accusers, paid $380,000 late last year to actor Jimmy Bennett, who had accused her of assault. The news came after Argento delivered a rousing speech at the Cannes Film Festival in support of #MeToo and change in the industry. Argento has since now accused Bennett of assault.

And last week, Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen’s wife and the adopted daughter of Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow, denied in an interview the claims that Farrow has made over the years that Allen sexually abused both Previn and Farrow’s daughter Dylan. The case predates #MeToo by decades, but with its conflicting accounts, show-business setting and elements of activism (Farrow was an early, prominent crusader against abuse), Previn’s comments added new complexity to a decades-old debate.

Ultimately and unfairly, the burden falls upon survivors–any survivor, really–to explain away these complications: after news of the Argento allegations broke, many turned to early Weinstein accuser and fellow crusader Rose McGowan for an explanation, even though McGowan wasn’t in the room when the alleged assault took place and had no means of clarifying the messy narrative. Meanwhile, thorny questions about Woody Allen’s legacy have been thrust on the women and children in his life rather than on Allen himself.

Even as hundreds of wrongdoers are fired from their jobs, investigated by police and, in the rarest of cases, actually sentenced for committing the crime of assault or rape, the women who lead #MeToo will never be able to declare victory. “I still have to think about the worst moment in my life when I go to sleep every night,” says Lewis, the Plaza Hotel worker.

There will be no one moment that solves all the problems of sexism and the abuses that accompany it in any industry. For activists, including survivors, the past year has sometimes felt just, and often discouraging. But if revolutions come all at once, societies change slowly. That’s a cause both of frustration and ultimately–actuarially, even–of real hope.

“Even if I’m not seeing change among those in power, I see changes in my generation, especially among men in my generation,” says Meyer. “I have to hope that when those men and women rise to positions of power, that’s when things will finally, really, be different.”

Read more: 7 Women on What Their Lives Are Like After Coming Forward About Sexual Harassment and Assault

Correction, Sept. 21:

The original version of this story misstated when Chicago’s “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance passed. It passed in 2017, not in July of this year. It went into effect in July.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com