Russian, Ukrainian Women Fight Against Sexual Assault Online

Women are sharing experiences of sexual harassment and assault using #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt

Image: Tara Jacoby
Jul 15, 2016 at 3:22 PM ET

In Ukraine and Russia, thousands of women are sharing personal stories of being sexually violated, rallying around a slogan: “I am not afraid to say it!”

Ukrainian activist and journalist Nastya Melnychenko started the viral campaign with a Facebook post on Tuesday. Women in both countries quickly shared their own stories on Facebook and Twitter, adding the hashtags #яНеБоюсьСказати or and #яНеБоюсьСказать, which both translate to #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt.

“We do not need to make excuses. We are not to blame, a rapist is always the one to blame. I am not afraid to speak out. And I do not feel guilty,” Melnychenko wrote, revisiting the cases of sexual harassment throughout her life: A distant family member at the age of six, a passerby on the street at the age 13, and a cruel ex-boyfriend at the age of 21. “Have men ever wondered how it feels like to grow up in a climate where you are treated like meat? You haven’t done anything, but everyone feels entitled to fuck you and dispose of your body.”

Other women used the hashtags to express their solidarity with the campaign but without sharing their own experience, saying it still hurts too much. “#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: It is harder than the death of your loved one. I can compare them. But I can’t say [more],” wrote Facebook user Anna Gutnitskaya.

“At the age of 11 I was coming back from school. At 2 PM. A man of 40 grabbed my back, dragged me through the road to the forest and raped me #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt,” wrote Sonya Grese.

A performance artist from Moscow, 23-year-old Alena Papina, listed off her own flashbacks: molested by a shop assistant in Turkey when she was 13, in a fitting room with her parents nearby. At 19, a stranger tried to put his arm between her legs and masturbate in the middle of the crowd. “I have never told the first one to anyone before, so this is kind of coming out,” Papina told Vocativ. “The most hellish thing is that you do not understand how it happens next to your parents, when you feel the most protected; or next to your boyfriend, when you feel the most beautiful and loved; or in the center of Moscow at noon. It seems now that every woman has such story… Over time, it becomes a part of you and your body.”

Ksenia, from Saint Petersburg, wrote of “psychological abuse with a physical ending.”

“When we are all together, it is easier [to reveal such stories], of course,” she told Vocativ about the campaign. “I was inspired by my older friends, the best women, with whom I don’t feel any fear. A lot of evil has risen to the surface thanks to this campaign, so now it is possible to struggle with it.” Ksenia said her post is hidden from her father.

According to Sisters, a Russian welfare crisis center for women, just 10 to 12 percent of sexual violence victims in Russia report such crimes to police. Then, only one in five of statements is acknowledged by law enforcement, and just 2.9 percent of criminal cases get to court. In most cases, women stay silent.

The sheer number of personal stories spoken out in the past several days shocked some men. “These stories are very hard to read—both because of the compassion and shame for men,” journalist Alexander Chernykh wrote. “But it is necessary to read them to know that it all is happening here and now.” Another male journalist, Andrey Dihtjarenko, called the campaign “the most impressive act since the hashtag was invented.”

“Listen, I am just shocked because of the #IamNotAfraidToSayIt campaign. I did not imagine the scale of this issue,” screenwriter Roman Rozengurt wrote. “I do not know what to do with it—except to buy my wife a taser.”

All quotes and comments have been translated from Russian.