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#MeAt14 is about empowering abuse survivors to change the narrative

The #MeAt14 and #MeToo campaigns allow women and all survivors to tell their story in their way and in their time.

Actress Alyssa Milano posted this photo from when she was 14.
Actress Alyssa Milano posted this photo from when she was 14.Read moreAlyssa Milano

The first #MeAt14 tweet  Maria Fisher noticed was the one posted by actress Alyssa Milano.

It was part of a social-media campaign that took off over the weekend in response to people defending Roy Moore, the controversial GOP Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate, who said his alleged dating of teenage girls shouldn't keep him from running for office. (As a fifth woman came forward Monday to accuse him of assault when she was 16, he said he has no plans to leave the race.)

In her tweet, Milano posted a picture of her 14-year-old self, looking sweet — and young — in bright purple pants and yellow ankle socks.

I worshipped my brother, started the tweet.

I loved my dog, Pucci. I loved OMD. I had Big hair. I was happy. I was innocent.

But Fisher, of Newtown Square, who grew up in Washington,  said she always looked older than her years. By the time she was 14, she had been getting attention on the street from grown men.

"I had C-cup [breasts] at age 12," Fisher said. "I got a lot of catcalling, whistling, that sort of stuff. It really started at 11."

So she joined the hashtag campaign to show the world that "a 14-year-old cannot comprehend what it means to date an adult." All she wanted to do at that age, she tweeted, was "take ballet and babysit infants."

"I feel like at 14, you have no idea what relationships are," said Fisher, a former actress who is now a stay-at-home mother of three daughters ages 14, 13, and 3. "We were still children, playing with Barbie dolls.

"I got my last doll at 14."

Catherine R. L. Lawson, a lawyer in Raleigh, N.C., started the #MeAt14 hashtag to "show what a 14-year-old looks like. Affirm they're not capable of consent. Remind people that kids deserve protection."

Lawson's first tweet was posted at 4 p.m. Nov. 9.  But it was a retweet and a separate post by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, that got the attention of many folks in media and entertainment. (Some have mistakenly credited Winstead with creating the MeAt14 hashtag.)

Regardless of who started it, it's the message of the people who are speaking out through #MeAt14 that is most important, said Monique Howard, executive directive of Women Organized Against Rape, a Philadelphia rape crisis center.

"I think women are playing a significant role in shifting the narrative."

For too long, she said, female and male survivors of sexual assault have been silent about what happened to them. Some posting pictures to the #MeAt14 hashtag have been men recalling being abused when they were teens.

"This campaign and the #MeToo campaign allows women and all survivors to tell their story in their way and in their time."

Laura Levitt, a professor of religion, Jewish studies, and gender at Temple University, said she found it remarkable that so many people, women and men, were coming forward. She said a combination of events, beginning with the election of President Trump, who gloated on tape about grabbing women, and the revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had "emboldened a lot of people to tell their stories."

"What we are discovering is that, unfortunately, the [abuse] situation in the United States is much worse than we like to admit," Leavitt said. "In this country, the ubiquity of sexual abuse is unbelievably large."  She said it takes a lot for people to tell their stories. "It's really difficult, it's painful, and it's hard."

Howard said that although it can be empowering and cathartic for people to tell their stories, it can be traumatizing for others who aren't ready to talk openly about being abused.

People who need help but who are not ready to tell their stories can contact rape crisis centers like Women Organized Against Rape. (There is a rape crisis center in every county in the Philadelphia region, though they have different names.)

Over the last few weeks,  Howard has witnessed many men and women having conversations about what constitutes sexual harassment. Sometimes the issues are murky.

But in the case of Moore, then an assistant district attorney, and then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman, there is no murkiness, Howard said.

"This is a 32-year-old man who wants to date a 14-year-old," she said. "It's illegal. It's that simple.

"This is someone who's aware of the laws around consent and the age of consent … He clearly knew what he was doing."