While I admire and respect survivors of sexual assault, and their bravery in coming forward with their stories should be applauded, I do wonder how well the #MeToo campaign has been thought through.
It may sound a bit prim, but I believe that those who create Twitter campaigns with the aim of going viral have a duty to think first about their audiences.
For children, and in particular young girls, to whom sex is a dark, peripheral worry, the idea of sexual assault is absolutely terrifying. As an eight or nine year old child, I remember lying awake in bed for nights on end after half overhearing part of what happened to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Years later, a little girl I was babysitting – also of about eight – came down to me in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and floods of tears saying she kept having nightmares that a man on the street was grabbing her and taking her away.
Both my young charge and I were shielded from newspaper stories about rape – on the sensible grounds that it’s not something eight-year-olds should have to think about.
Children of today, who all use social media obsessively to follow their favourite celebrities, don’t have that sort of protection. Clearly policing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to make them 100% child friendly would be impossible, and I wouldn’t try to advocate it, but filling little girls feeds’ with hundreds of troubling stories about sexual assault, complete with comments saying things like “sadly, almost every woman will have to go through this at some point in their lives”, seems like a recipe for panic.
Of course, if the campaign aims to warn girls and women about the dangers of sexual predators, then that is worthwhile cause in itself. But if that’s the case, then it should take a very different tone – one which is constructive and sensitive, and doesn’t imply that if you haven’t yet been abused, you are in a tiny minority, and it’s only a matter of time.
There are some serious steps we should be taking as a country to tackle the scourge of sexual abuse, including making it easier for victims to report to the police, safe in the knowledge that they will be treated with dignity and respect.
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But in an age in which a record number of children – including some as young as five – are being treated for anxiety and depression, I don’t think whipping up fear in a social media campaign is a particularly sensible way forward.