Baton Rouge business owner shares her #MeToo story of sexual assault

Baton Rouge business owner shares her #MeToo story of sexual assault

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The hashtag #MeToo is trending on social media after actress Alyssa Milano asked women on Twitter Sunday to share their stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted.

Thousands of women have responded to the tweet sharing their stories. The campaign comes in the wake of the allegations of decades of sexual misconduct made against the film executive Harvey Weinstein.

"It's 2017. We shouldn't just need a hashtag to raise awareness about sexual assault," Charlotte Smith told WAFB by phone.

Smith, who is originally from London, England, owns her own public relations and marketing firm in Baton Rouge and is the victim of a recent sexual assault and says she has experienced years of sexual harassment in the business world. She also used the hashtag and believes it is important because it allows her and other victims to stand in solidarity.

"It also gives victims a voice, even if all they can muster are the words 'me too,'" she says. "It's just a hashtag but it started the conversation and the conversation (about sexual assault) should not end" until it is no longer a problem.

Smith hopes that speaking out about her experiences will empower other victims to speak up and will create a dialogue about the issue that ultimately will prevent future cases sexual harassment and assaults.

She emphasized that her story is not singular and unfortunately an incalculable number of women share similar stories. Smith is no longer ashamed of the fact that she was sexually assaulted but said it was difficult for her to go to the authorities. She admits it took her a long time to realize that the incident was not her fault. She said she initially felt ashamed, a feeling most victims share. Smith believes society has conditioned people to be ashamed when they become victims of sexual assault. The local business owner hopes the culture of "how we look at victims" will change.

Smith says in her nearly 25 years of business she has experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment. She described experiences of being interrupted during business meetings by men to make comments about her body. She also said potential male clients have made inappropriate sexual remarks directly to her during consolations. Smith said it's very difficult when she experiences sexual harassment because she (and other victims) do not want to appear as someone who is easily offended.

As the owner of her own business, Smith feels very fortunate because she gets to choose who she works for. She openly admits she has turned down contracts from potential clients who have made harassing remarks. She enjoys working with her current clients and says they have all treated her with the utmost respect. But she says, unfortunately, many women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace continue to endure the harassment because they are financially dependent and fear losing their job.

"Society demands women feel flattered by how men feel about them regardless of the context or situation," Smith said.

She also says in the south, there is a culture of "compliments" such as "baby" or "sweetie" that are perceived to be polite but can make women feel uncomfortable.

Smith wants people to change their mindsets about sexual misconduct. She also says men who have issues with dealing with their sexual urges or control shouldn't feel ashamed or afraid to talk to a therapist. Those men also shouldn't be stigmatized, she said. Smith encourages other victims to come forward because she believes the more it is reported, the more people will be aware of sexual harassment and assault.

EDITORS NOTE: WAFB does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. However, in this case, Charlotte Smith asked to be identified.

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