Harvey Weinstein. Larry Nassar. Bill Cosby.
Three of the most high-profile sexual misconduct cases from the #MeToo era share a commonality: For each perpetrator — whether alleged or convicted — there were dozens of survivors who came forward to tell their stories. On magazine covers, survivors appeared together, stacked one on top of the other to show their mass. The sheer volume of people who were affected overwhelmed readers as they parsed through information about men who had dominated their fields and wielded power over the women who looked up to them.
It may seem as though the #MeToo movement was as quick and forceful as an avalanche, but a closer read shows that it sometimes took decades for these women to find each other as their antagonists went unchecked. And in office buildings with no celebrity power or media attention, connecting with survivors who have faced the same harasser or assailant can be difficult.
But a new website is trying to change that. ImWithThem.org, from sexual misconduct prevention nonprofit I’m With Them, is a resource for people who have experienced work-related sexual harassment or assault and suspect their perpetrator may be a serial offender. It’s a platform to connect victims of the same bad actor to one another, but only after a number of reports have been received (its developers are still deciding what that number is, though they’re more inclined toward groups than pairs).
“When you put them together, they create a pattern of behavior that represents pervasiveness, and I think that’s something that we really haven’t had,” said Laurie Girand, I’m With Them’s president.
The site is not for everyone — a fact that is explicit in its text. “Because the User is our priority, if the ‘outing’ of their experience or their association with the perpetrator would make the User uncomfortable, they should not use I’m With Them,” it says. Though it’s confidential and relatively private, the platform is not intended as a tool to anonymously report; for those who are more inclined toward that form of action, I’m With Them’s resource page has information about a hotline.
But for survivors who want to share their stories and believe in the power of numbers, I’m With Them provides a network for people to make that connection.
“I believe there’s a set of victims that are upset — and rightfully upset — and believe that this person should be stopped. And that set of people will be the people who tend to come forward,” said Girand.
How it works
The process to register at I’m With Them is simple, yet comprehensive. An individual who chooses to register is redirected to a form, where they fill in personal information such as name, address, and the last four digits of their social security number. With this data, I’m With Them authenticates the user’s profile through BlockScore, an identity verification API. The protection is intended to keep out those who might use fake email addresses or pseudonyms.
Once a user is authenticated, they complete a series of identifying questions, including information about their perpetrator – name, phone numbers, license plate, social media accounts, and other potential indicators. Users are asked about their relationship to the alleged offender, as well as the incidents that occurred between them.
After that, users have to wait. They may get a quick response, but it could also take months or years to find a match. In some instances, nothing may happen. Outcomes depend on who registers for the platform, among other case-related variables.
If a group does form a match, they will be sent each other’s names and contact information with details on how to safely proceed. But their stories will not be shared. Survivors have agency to decide whether they want to tell those peers what happened to them, and they can make that decision on their own terms if they decide to move forward.
Who will use it?
Girand said there are groups of survivors who will not necessarily be attracted to her platform — people who are still traumatized by the experience may feel as though they aren’t ready for the exposure, and on the other end of the spectrum, some workers may dismiss the harassment they experienced as an awkward exchange instead of full-fledged misconduct. But she’s banking on the fact that the majority of people feel differently, and I’m With Them is for that critical mass who believe they were put in an uncomfortable position and now want justice.
The site is also a resource for victims who feel vulnerable and don’t know where to turn. For example, Girand said, interviewees or vendors who face harassment are not always empowered to report their harassers. They might fear losing business or their job, or they might not even know who to contact. I’m With Them provides one vehicle through which survivors in more precarious situations may be able to access what they need to feel they can speak out against their offender.
I’m With Them also has the potential to serve an institutional purpose. Girand said she could foresee anonymizing data and working with companies to identify problem areas within their ranks. She could not point to a particular employee, but she would be able to indicate that an entire department could use more training or attention.
The platform went live on Jan. 23, and Girand said she expects anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of records filtering through her site.