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Women detail how early sexual abuse starts with #WhenIWas campaign

The hashtag shows just how normalized sexual abuse is.


Jaya Saxena


Posted on Apr 19, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 10:21 pm CDT

It’s an unfortunate truth that by the age of 18, most women will have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12. Aside from rape, many young girls face instances of sexual intimidation, harassment, and general sexism. 

And today women are using the hashtag #WhenIWas to speak about their experiences.

The hashtag has been popularized by The Everyday Sexism Project—which calls itself a “place to record stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places”—spotlighting how early sexual abuse can begin.

All day, Everyday Sexism has been retweeting stories of sexual abuse, ranging from women being catcalled at a young age to being raped by family members. There are now over 20,000 tweets using the hashtag, cataloging these instances of sexism.

Most of the stories are coming from women, as 82 percent of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female. But men have also been getting in on the conversation, speaking out about their own instances of early abuse.

What the hashtag brings to light is how this sort of behavior is often normalized. As a woman reading through these stories, I have my own versions of nearly all of them: how I was encouraged to think of my body not as my own but as a “distraction” for others; how I was told to think of catcalls as a “compliment”; how it’d be safer if I just ignored the man grinding his erection against my thigh on the subway than to try to make him stop. 

Many women also have stories of attempting to come forward, only to be discouraged by family, friends, and the police.

With tens of thousands of victims—and counting—sharing their accounts, “everyday sexism” becomes hard to ignore. 

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*First Published: Apr 19, 2016, 3:42 pm CDT