DOI: 10.1177/00221678241234949 ISSN: 0022-1678

Sexual Victimization and the Existential Impact of #MeToo

Rachel E. Williamson, Selina Hardt, Emily P. Courtney, Jamie L. Goldenberg
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Social Psychology

The MeToo movement heightened reminders of sexual violence, while also providing opportunities for collective support and meaning. To explore the existential impact of exposure to online content related to sexual violence, we randomly assigned participants ( N = 537) to one of three conditions involving reading tweets presenting statistics about either: sexual violence, sexual violence paired with the #MeToo hashtag, or property theft. Participants then completed a measure of unconscious death thought accessibility (DTA) and the Existential Concerns Questionnaire (ECQ). Participants also reported on history of sexual victimization and described their views on the MeToo movement. Open-ended responses were coded as reflecting neutral, positive, or negative views of the movement. An inductive content analysis resulted in eight central themes, including: sense of community, raising awareness/promoting change, and movement being misused. Following coding, and with both DTA and ECQ as outcomes, we ran a 3 (condition) x 3 (MeToo views: positive, negative, neutral) x 2 (victimization history) ANOVA. A significant main effect of victimization was found for both implicit and explicit measures of existential anxiety: those with a history of sexual victimization reported higher DTA and ECQ scores compared with those with no reported history. A significant Condition x Views interaction was also found, such that, within the MeToo condition, those with positive views of the movement had lower DTA compared with those with neutral or negative views. Results highlight the relevance of existential impact to sexual victimization, as well as the potential for social movements to buffer these impacts.

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