The first time it happened, she was in elementary school.
They were playing a game where she had to “guess the object,” and he made her touch certain body parts.
What made it worse was the fact that he was her cousin.
The second time, he tried to get her to lie down on his lap. When she moved away from him uncomfortably, he used the fact that she was extremely ticklish to subdue her and proceeded to put his hand down her pants.
By the third time, the 2017 MVHS alumna, who will be called Jane in order to maintain her privacy, was in her final years of middle school and could finally comprehend what was happening. She knew now to stay away from him, but at one family gathering, the adults had pushed all the kids together in a room. She tried to stay on the opposite side of the room, and for a few minutes it seemed to work, but he soon approached her. He tried to get her to kiss him, and she had to physically shove him away from her.
She wouldn’t tell anyone about the incidents until nearly two years later.
That was how 2016 MVHS alumna Alice Tsvinev remembered feeling as someone whom she had considered a close friend pushed her into a car, pinning her down to the seat. He had overpowered her, and she couldn’t even fight back.
She had been spending a relaxing evening with two of her friends in a park when it happened. It was late at night when one of her friends decided that it was time for him to go home. He turned to her other friend and offered him a ride, but her other friend declined, saying that he wanted to keep her company, since Tsvinev wasn’t ready to go home. They had been catching up when he began to make advances on her. She was quick to reject them, explaining that she felt uncomfortable and just wanted to sit down and talk to him, but he was persistent. Soon, he had her pinned inside her own car and began to sexually assault her.
“I remember at that time I really wished my other friend was there because I know that he would’ve at least tried to help get him off,” Tsvinev said. “Going home that night [I felt] awful about myself and awful about what happened.”
She wouldn’t tell anyone about the incident until nearly two years later.
On October 15, the hashtag #MeToo began trending on Facebook and Twitter as women and men began using the two words to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment. According to CNN, the hashtag began trending after allegations of sexual assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced and actress Alyssa Milano encouraged victims to tweet the hashtag in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” But the “Me Too” movement itself was started nearly 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke.
To 19-year-old Tsvinev and 18-year-old Jane, who both posted a “Me Too” status on Facebook, the movement presented many opportunities. For one, it allowed them to inform their friends and family what had happened to them, even if it wasn’t in great detail.
“I figured that I might as well let people know that ‘hey, this happened to me too,’” Jane said.
It also allowed them to give their support to others who had gone through what they had experienced.
For both of them, their assaulters were people they knew and trusted. According to Mabelle Bong, an outreach and training coordinator at Young Women’s Christian Association Silicon Valley, 80 percent or more of perpetrators of sexual assault are people the victims know. The YWCA is an international organization that was founded in 1905 to support women. Its website says that the goal is to “eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Through the years, the organization has evolved to offer support for victims of sexual assault and abuse of all genders. Bong says that the majority of sexual assault cases go unreported.
Both Jane and Tsvinev had hidden their stories for years after the events had occurred. Riddled with shame and anxiety, Tsvinev kept it a secret from her closest friends, her family and even her boyfriend at the time. Her harasser told his friends that she had wanted to do things with him, and because of her silence, everyone had believed his side of the story.
“[He] tried to talk to me again and act as if we were friends and we were cool, but I distinctly remember ignoring everything and blocking him from Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and stuff to try to get him away from me,” Tsvinev said.
Jane and Tsvinev believe that victim-blaming plays a large role in why victims of sexual abuse choose not to speak up. Tsvinev was afraid that if she told people, she would get insensitive questions.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met or worked with someone who hasn’t been questioned by a family member, a friend or somebody in their life that they’ve disclosed to saying ‘Oh, what were you wearing? What were you doing? Maybe you shouldn’t have been doing that, maybe you asked for it, what did you expect?’,” Bong said. “Because of this rape culture that we live in, survivors are generally criticized for experiencing harm. We live in a culture where women, and also just all genders, all survivors of sexual assault or violence, are blamed or criticized.”
Jane adds that the harassers are often people who are close to the victim, which also makes victims want to keep silent about their experiences. Since Jane’s harasser was her relative, she didn’t want to cause tensions or confrontations within the family and only told her school counselor and close friends two years later.
“It’s a lot harder to try and say something about it about someone who you know, who you thought as a family member or a friend or something like that than it is to put a stranger in jail,” Jane said.
Bong agrees that the fact that the majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are someone that the survivor knows, whether that’s a friend, a family member, a partner or a coworker, plays a role in many victims choice to keep silent.
Jane first saw the #MeToo trend after she saw a couple of her other friends post about it and what it meant. Although she believes it will help people understand how widespread the issue of sexual assault is, she knows that many victims still may not feel comfortable with posting about their experience.
After the incident, Tsvinev found it hard to trust others, as she had been assaulted by someone she knew personally. For her, “Me Too” made her feel less alone. After seeing her friends and people she looked up to post the hashtag, she realized that she could help someone else feel less alone as well.
“It’s important to not feel alone and know that there are people out there that have gone through the same thing as you and have worked through it,” Tsvinev said. “Because after something like that happens to you, you feel kind of guilty, even though it’s not your fault. And seeing that there are other people who don’t blame themselves makes you realize that it’s not your fault this happened to you.”