Rhode Islanders discuss sexual harassment and assault with #MeToo campaign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As thousands of women and men have started sharing on social media how they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, Rhode Island’s Day One organization, whose mission is to reduce the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence, is feeling encouraged by the dialogue.

The hashtag, #MeToo, started to flood the Internet after a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, reacting to the allegations from several women that they were harassed or assaulted by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” said Milano. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”

Peg Langhammer, the executive director of Day One, said Monday sex crimes are pervasive.

“We know that one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually abused before the age of 18. We also know that one in five women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus,” she said.

The organization says it’s the only one in Rhode Island which focuses primarily on sexual abuse and assault.

“This wave is a groundswell,” said Langhammer. “I think the more people come forward, the more people will be believed, and that’s kind of what’s happening with all of this, locally as well as nationally.”

In an interview with the Providence Journal, Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, said she’s experienced harassment even at the State House.

“I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further,” she said, referring to a person with a “higher-ranking” position in the State House. She never reported it because she was afraid she would not be taken seriously.

Tuesday, support for Tanzi came from across the aisle, with a demand for retribution: the Rhode Island Republican Party said in a news release they wanted the matter investigated and the person responsible removed from their position.

“The people of Rhode Island are tired of the bad behavior that goes on at the highest levels of their government,” said RI GOP chair Brandon S. Bell.

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he will be contacting human resources to provide training for House members and staff at the beginning of the next legislative session.

“I commend Representative Tanzi for coming forward and discussing this troubling issue,” he said. “I know it was difficult for her and it took courage. The overwhelming majority of members of the House conduct themselves appropriately at all times. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Last week, Harvey Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, The Weinstein Company, after a report by The New York Times that included at least eight allegations of sexual harassment.

Since Milano called for “Me too,” more than half a million people have posted the phrase.

“We think we’re seeing a cultural shift, which is what needs to happen. We live in a culture that tolerates sexual violence,” said Langhammer.

The Day One telephone hotline is available 24 hours a day, at (800) 494-8100, and resources are available at their website, including advocacy and therapy for victims and survivors.