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UT student finds courage and strength through online #MeToo movement

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - The phrase "me too" has become a rallying cry for women across the world who are no longer staying silent about sexual violence. Their stories in tweets, Facebook posts, interviews and public forums came to light after sexual misconduct allegations were made against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

A sophomore at the University of Tennessee, who requested to be called "Rebecca" to protect her identity, shared a sobering experience which happened last year. Rebecca says the #MeToo movement has given her a sense of bravery.

It was the night the national championship was on. Everyone was back on campus after winter break.

"So we were all excited to watch the game," said Rebecca.

She planned on going to a house party with friends and that's where she says she met him. The two chatted for some time while sharing a drink.

"He asked if I wanted my own drink and I said yes, and so he took me upstairs. Aand when we walked to his room, it was kind of a normal thing like I wasn't really weirded out by it at all," added Rebecca.

She says as she followed the young man, he closed the door and locked it. Rebecca remembers that they started kissing and that was okay.

"But then things started to go a little bit farther than what I was okay with and I voice that. I said, 'No this isn't why I came up here,'" explained Rebecca.

She says saying "no" did nothing and the young man raped her.

"I heard my friends through the hallway screaming my name and trying to get into the room and he just told me that the door was locked and nobody could hear me," Rebecca said.

Over the last year, this survivor has been working through emotional pain.

"Early on I just blamed myself because I shouldn't have gone upstairs. I shouldn't have been talking to him. I shouldn't have done this and I shouldn't have done that but then as time's gone on, yeah I did nothing wrong," said Rebecca.

That kind of message is what women are sharing, around the world, simply by saying "me too."

"In a way I feel like they're kind of doing this for me," said Rebecca.

Those at the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee are finding more people asking for help. Since October 2017, when #MeToo first started, the center has received 382 calls to their emergency hotline.

"Unfortunately it does happen and so I am happy to see people come forward and reaching out for help," said Catherine Oaks, assistant director of victims services at Helen Ross McNabb.

Advocates say the #MeToo movement locally has started conversations, created awareness of the prevalence and problem of sexual violence, and there's the hope for substantial change.

"There needs to be policies and procedures in place for sexual harassment, sexual violence, in addition to that, training. I think so many people don't have any type of training," said Oaks.

She hopes to see more outreach about resources at offices and college campuses. 

"It's something we want to do all throughout the year," Oaks said.

One change that may be happening now is the shift away from blaming rape and sexual assault survivors.

"I think this is an empowering moment to say, 'We're going to start by believing. We're going to believe you and what you say,'" added Oaks.

Seeing #MeToo posts makes everyone feel something different and for Rebecca it was the first time she felt "that I wasn't alone."

She hasn't been alone over the last year while her case made its way through the legal system. Rebecca saying the man who attacked her was found guilty in university hearings and she now feels courageous.

"I've gotten to hear it from my mom and my dad. Now it seems like I can tell that they actually mean it," she said.

The Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee has trained advocates who can point you to resources, information and therapists. Advocates also walk you though what happens next, what it'll look like if you report to law enforcement or going through a college hearing process.

If you need to talk to someone now, you can call the emergency hotline at (865) 522-7273.

The Sexual Assault Center last year helped more than 700 people and so far in 2018, that number is at 284. The survivors range in age from 4 years old to 84 years old. For more resources and ways to get help, you can visit their website by clicking here.

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