#MeToo is here too: a local look inside the #MeToo movement

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - It's not just happening in Hollywood.

A movement started more than 10 years ago was revived with a single tweet last month, sparking conversation around the country and here in Wilmington.

In early October, the New York Times reported allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Following this news, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter urging those who have been sexually assaulted or harassed to post just two words: me too.

In the days and weeks to follow, millions of people shared their stories on social media using the hashtag, #MeToo.

It's a problem stitched so tightly into our society, but the conversation surrounding it has barely existed until now.

A former teacher who used to wait tables for extra income, a restaurant worker, a business owner: local women from different generations and all walks of life who are publicly saying "me too."

"The first time I was sexually assaulted was when I was a kid. I was molested by a family member," said 34-year-old Ahna Hendrix.

Hendrix is the creator and president of Ahnahata Swimwear. She and her team create custom-made swimwear designed to empower women to feel confident about their bodies regardless of what they look like.

She took to Facebook to join the #MeToo movement in hopes of doing the same.

"I'm not sharing my story for me," she said. "I'm OK now. I've healed from my past, but I want other women to feel like they can talk about it too."

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one in six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.

"You hear these stories about a girl being raped or sexually assaulted on whatever level and it's like, 'Well, what was she wearing and was she drinking? ... Oh, she's in a back alley.' None of these things excuse what happened to her," Hendrix said. "If consent wasn't given, consent wasn't given. Bottom line."

Jen Adler is the director of UNCW's Care Center, a campus resource dedicated to the prevention of and response to sexual violence.

The services and education provided by the center help to change the culture and the stigma that surrounds it.

"The natural consequence for someone drinking too much is a bad hangover, certainly not a sexual assault," Adler said. "As a society, we do a lot of victim blaming. The #MeToo movement has given people the opportunity to put it out there in a very public way, and to let them know they're not alone."

People like Hendrix want women and men to know they're not alone.

A family member molested Hendrix when she was a child. A man she was dating raped her in her early 20s.

She has always been able to talk about it openly, but those experiences have had lifelong impacts.

"I kind of wanted to push it away or pretend like it didn't happen," she said. "I was ashamed of myself."

Now Hendrix and many others who have joined the movement want victims to know it's not their fault.

"Consent is consent, and that blame isn't ours to carry," Hendrix said.

"Sexual assault isn't something that defines someone," Adler said. "It's an experience that they had, but they can overcome it and most of all, I want them to know that they're not alone and that there's help available. People can not only survive this, but actually thrive and get to a better place in their life than before it happened."

Like a swimsuit custom made for a woman stitch by stitch, every tweet and each post represents women speaking out.

"That is us fighting back. This is us saying not anymore. This is not acceptable," Hendrix said. "Whether it's Harvey Weinstein or my next door neighbor, it's time that these people start being held accountable or we start healing, whatever is best for us."

This movement and these women are trying to create a new kind of culture, one that will no longer ignore sexual assault.

There are still so many stories to be told regarding this issue, and WECT is dedicated to continuing this conversation in our community.

If you'd like to share your story, you can reach out to us at newsroom@wect.com.

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