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#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: Ukrainian Social Media Users Break the Silence on Sexual Violence

Image from The Noun Project. Edited by Tetyana Lokot.

Image from The Noun Project. Edited by Tetyana Lokot.

A new hashtag is trending in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook: ‪#‎ЯНеБоюсьСказати‬ (#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt). On the hashtag, Internet users have been sharing their stories and experiences of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and domestic violence.

The hashtag—and the ensuing flashmob—was started by activist and journalist Nastya Melnychenko, who published a post explaining her desire to speak out on Facebook on July 5.

In her post, Melnychenko says she feels the need to talk about her very personal experiences of sexual violence because it's important for women who have faced such violence to speak about it and make it “visible.”

Я хочу, аби сьогодні говорили ми, жінки. Аби ми говорили про насильство, яке пережила більшість з нас. Я хочу, аби ми не оправдувалися “я йшла у спортивках серед дня, а мене все одно схопили”. Бо нам не треба оправдуватися. Ми не винні, винен ЗАВЖДИ насильник.
Я не боюсь говорити. І я не почуваюся винною.

I want us, women, to talk today. To talk about the violence that most of us have lived through. I want us to stop making excuses and saying “I was wearing gym clothes during the day, and still got pawed.” We don't need to make excuses. We're not to blame, those who violate us are ALWAYS to blame.
I am not afraid to speak out. And I do not feel guilty.

Melnychenko recounts several instances of sexual harassment and violence throughout her life, from the time she was a child of 6 and harassed by a distant male relative, to the time she was already an adult and an ex-boyfriend threatened to post a sex video of them made earlier online as revenge for the breakup.

Melnychenko's post and her call to share their stories resulted in multiple other Facebook users in Ukraine using the hashtag to post about their own experiences of sexual violence.

Some have replied in the comments to her post, while others posted separately. The initial post has been shared over 60 times and has over a hundred comments: some of them praising Melnychenko's bravery, others critical of her exposure, and some outright abusive.

Women have shared stories of being violated by strangers or friends; of indecent exposure by teachers, neighbors or relatives; of classmates harassing them; of colleagues and bosses who pressured them into sex; and dozens of other cases.

One user commented on how appalling it was to see the scale of the issue once the Facebook posts and comments started popping up.

Від цих історій волосся стає дибки і думаєш, яке щастя, що нічого такого не сталося з тобою. А потім починаєш пригадувати того сусідського хлопчика, який намагався переконати тебе зняти трусики, і того голого незнайомця в парку, і того іншого голого в сквері, і всі оті обмацування в метро, і ту смішну поїздку в потязі, коли п'яний сусід по купе серед ночі пробував на тебе залізти…
‪#‎яНеБоюсьСказати‬, але мені моторошно від того, наскільки повсякденним є такий досвід і скільки ще є таких нерозказаних історій.

These stories make you break out in goosebumps and you hair stand on end, and you think, how great that nothing like that has ever happened to me. And then you recall the neighborhood boy who tried to get you to take your panties off, and the naked stranger in the park, and another naked dude in another park, and all those pawing you on the subway, and the weird train ride when your drunk compartment neighbor tried to mount you in the middle of the night…
#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt, but it makes me nauseous how common and routine this kind of experience is and how many of these stories remain untold.

Nastya Melnychenko later edited her post to add that men were also welcome to share their stories. Ukrainian artist Eliash Strongowski responded to the call and recounted his own childhood experiences.

Коли у старших класах я волонтерив на телефоні довіри, таки х історій були десятки щодня. З крутішим ґрадусом – реґулярне зґвалтування батьком чи вітчимом, чи навіть студентом на практиці в школі, дехто і про аборти від такого розповідав; історії про “по кругу” в дитячих таборах, з або без вихователем; публічне приниження за відмову – з публічним же безкарним рукоприкладством. І все це з вимогою мовчати під страхом смерти. У мене кров стигла, а для них то була буденність.

When I worked the crisis phone helpline as a high school student, there were dozens of these stories every day. The worst would include being raped by a father or stepfather, or a college student interning at a school, some even mentioned getting abortions after this; stories about being “passed around” in summer camps, with or without the camp councelor's involvement; public humiliation for refusal to succumb—with public violence without consequence. And all of this with a promise to keep silent under threat of death. My blood would run cold, and for these people this was everyday life.

Strongowski also noted that peer pressure and social upbringing factored into why he himself had engaged in harassment as a teen, despite having experienced unwanted sexual advances before.

Що значить що нас так виховують. Дівчат – із комплексом жертви, хлопців – із комплексом насильника. Збоченців і хворих вистачає, але першопричина – у нас суспільство під це заточене.
Тому я фемініст. Тому мені не байдуже і тому про це треба говорити – голосно і без страху.

It means we are brought up this way. Girls to have a victim complex, and boys to have a rapist complex. There are plenty of perverts and sick people, but the primary reason is that our society is honed to do this.
This is why I am a feminist. This is why I care and why we should talk about it—loudly and without fear.

Ukrainian Facebook users have already published dozens of posts with the hashtag, supporting the campaign and sharing their stories or reacting to others’. Civic activists with Campaign Against Discrimination said in a Facebook post that talking about these very personal issues (usually seen as taboo in Ukrainian society) is an important first step towards changing the status quo.

Говорити про дискримінацію, несправедливість, насильство – це перший крок до змін. Коли ми говоримо про такі речі, інші розуміють, що вони не самі, що треба захищати свої права і що жодна людина не має зазнавати утисків. Підритмуємо ‪#‎яНеБоюсьСказати‬

Speaking about discrimination, injustice, violence is the first step toward change. When we speak about these things, others understand that they are not alone, that they must protect their rights, and that no person should face such discrimination. We support #IAmNotAfraifToSayIt

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