The #MeToo movement and perceptions of sexual assault: College students’ recognition of sexual assault experiences over time.

Anna E. Jaffe, Ian Cero, David DiLillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano encouraged anyone who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to respond on Twitter with the phrase, #MeToo. Millions responded and a cultural reckoning ensued. Anecdotally, the #MeToo movement appears to have affected survivors’ acceptance and acknowledgment of their own sexual assault experiences, but empirical evidence is lacking. To address this gap, the aim of this study was to examine associations between behavioral and labeled reports of sexual assault and time since the #MeToo movement began. Methods: Participants were 2,566 college students who completed a sexual assault survey over the course of 3 years, overlapping with the onset of the #MeToo movement. Results: Regarding our hypothesis that the prevalence of sexual assault—indicated by standardized behaviorally specific questions—would be relatively constant over time after controlling for demographics, a Bayesian logistic regression model yielded inconclusive results. However, among the 596 students who endorsed behaviorally specific screeners for sexual assault, a Bayesian linear regression model revealed that, after controlling for demographics and characteristics of the assault, participants were increasingly likely to label the experience a “sexual assault” with more time post-#MeToo. Conclusions: Overall, findings revealed no evidence for or against changes in the prevalence of sexual assault, but suggested there were associations between the #MeToo movement and greater recognition of past unwanted sexual experiences as “sexual assault” over time. These findings highlight the importance of considering the social context in research examining sexual assault survivors’ cognitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-218
Number of pages10
JournalPsychology of Violence
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 14 2021


  • cognitions
  • harassment
  • labeling
  • rape
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology


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