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OU professor gives voice to sexual assault survivors through Instagram account

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Meredith Worthen

Meredith Worthen, professor of feminist criminology and LGBTQ studies, poses for a photo in her office in Kaufman Hall Nov. 7.

As Meredith Worthen sat listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate in the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings in late September, she wanted to do something to help.

For Worthen, an associate sociology professor at OU, that meant doing something that she said is really important to her — making people feel accepted, helping them feel understood.

Soon after she came to Norman in 2009, Worthen started a nonprofit known as The Welcoming Project dedicated to providing businesses with signs to make members of the LGBTQ community feel welcomed as patrons.

Now, she said she sees an opportunity to make sexual assault survivors feel heard.

In late August, Worthen started an Instagram account known as @MeTooMeredith to provide an avenue for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories anonymously. The name is a tribute to the #MeToo movement, during which thousands of people shared their experience with sexual harassment and assault via social media.

On the one-year anniversary of the movement’s viral spread in October 2017, Worthen said something must have happened — the MeTooMeredith account really began to pick up traction.

“I got 15 stories that day, and then 15 more and 15 more,” Worthen said. “I was very surprised at how quickly it blew up that day. It was something like a catalyst.”

Now, in early November, the account has more than 300 posts and nearly 2,000 followers. Dedicated readers pore over her posts, showing support for survivors who have shared their stories through the account.

Though Worthen said the stories are difficult to read, she said it’s easier than what the survivors have gone through.

“It’s distressing to the reader,” Worthen said. “But imagine how distressing it is to the human who went through this.”

After privately messaging their stories to her, Worthen said many of the survivors she hears from want her to post their stories in order to help others.

”Yes, they want to do it because it’s cathartic and it’s a release, but I think a big reason why is because they are reading these other stories and it’s helping them,” Worthen said. “They also want to help. I think that is some kind of beautiful.”

Tonya Maynard, a sociology graduate student, said she has worked with Worthen on The Welcoming Project for about a year and a half.

She said she sees a link between the work they do as a part of The Welcoming Project — to promote inclusivity and diversity around the world — and Worthen’s MeTooMeredith platform.

“They’re both spaces to encourage a compassionate way of being,” Maynard said. “And they’re certainly focused on this idea of overcoming marginalization or creating a space for those who often don’t feel heard, to feel heard and supported.”

Maynard, who also follows Worthen’s Instagram account, said she can feel the difference it is making.

“Making a space and giving a voice to those who are often written off or disbelieved by society can be a really powerful thing,” Maynard said.

Worthen said she hopes the account can help the OU community and society as a whole to better understand the problems it faces when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

“If we know how real it is, maybe that can inspire major changes,” Worthen said. “As we share our stories, we start to heal ourselves, we help other people learn, we help educate people and ourselves — maybe that can change the world. Maybe it can change the way we look at this.”

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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