TW: Mentions of sexual harassment, assault, and trauma
In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral on social media, allowing victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape to vocalise their traumas. For some of them, that was the first time they had a chance to speak up. This past June, when women from around the world once again took to social media to share their stories, the phrase, ‘If I’m friends with your abuser, DM me,” saturated online feeds.
While these trends on social media were a critical step forward in helping women reclaim their voices on a subject that often remains too taboo to share outside of close friendships (if even at all), shame prompted by low government action and victim-blaming still remains. For the past three years, photojournalist Eliza Hatch has been fighting to give women a chance to reclaim their voices on the subject.
In 2017, the 26-year-old London-based photographer launched Cheer Up Luv, a campaign capturing photos of people in the place they were sexually harassed and retelling the story of the incidents. Since then, Hatch has shared hundreds of these stories to Instagram from people all over the world – creating a safe community space online where followers can share their personal stories in the comments and find comfort in the relatability of the content.
Now, Hatch is expanding her work to shatter the stigma of sexual harassment through The Cheer Up Luv Podcast. Based on the campaign, the podcast features conversations with creatives and activists discussing their work and reading follower-submitted stories of sexual trauma – all formulated with the goal of, “Dismantling myths and challenging some of the things that have become normalised in our day to day lives,” writes Hatch.
We spoke to Hatch about the podcast, the future of sexual harassment in the UK, how to get support if you’ve experienced sexual trauma, and how to be there for someone who has.
HB: What made you decide to start The Cheer Up Luv Podcast?
EH: I wanted to have another medium to share these stories. I’ve noticed that through doing the podcast, when speaking the stories out loud they take on a different weight. So, I basically just wanted an opportunity to speak to artists, activists, and creatives about their work, and to then discuss these stories of sexual harassment which we often don’t get the arena to publicly talk about. Yeah so really, I wanted to just dive deeper into the issues and stories that I touched about on Cheer Up Luv, and then reflect on the weight that the stories have when they’re read out loud.
Discussing sexual harassment from a creative lens is really unique. Do you mind just explaining why you decided to take a creative approach on this?
Through doing what I do with Cheer Up Luv, because you’re talking about serious issues and you’re tackling them in a creative way – through the lens of photography, for instance, or with illustrations or graphics – I think it makes the subject matter more approachable and easier to engage in. I’ve always had a sense of imposter syndrome surrounding being an activist and calling myself a feminist because I went to art school, and I didn’t train in any kind of field which would make me feel like I had any authority on the subject. So, I’ve kind of used the thing that I know how to do which is photography and art directing… to talk about issues that I care about. I think that’s why the project resonated with so many people – because it’s talking about something in a way which is relatable.
These isolated experiences feel very isolated while you’re experiencing them, but actually, when you read them out and share them you realise that they are shared experiences.
What would you say brings together the guests that you’re featuring, and how are you deciding the things that you want to feature on the podcast?
I’m so inspired by and learning from people in the communities that I’ve met online, and those include people like Jamie, Sophie, and Amika. I’m basically constantly inspired by what activists are doing and how they’re changing the world around them, and I think from following these people and interacting with them in online spaces for such a long time, I wanted to just add another dimension to things. I wanted to have the conversations that I’ve been commenting underneath posts about and have been sharing, and resharing and retweeting. These kinds of people that I admire and look up to – I wanted to actually ask them questions and have the real conversations that I’ve been resharing and tweeting about for years.
So, right now, post-quarantine, we’re in a time where human rights and social issues are all being brought to the surface at once. We have a lot of much-needed attention on things like the BLM movement and workers’ rights. What do you think needs to happen in the UK in terms of sexual harassment?
I think the conversation has gotten a lot of air time over the past couple of years, especially surfaced in the media and the #MeToo movement, and things like that. So, it’s a conversation and a topic that’s at the forefront of people’s minds. I think we need to take it one step further which is actually implementing legislation and implementing education so that the things that we have been talking about can actually come into action. A great example of that is Our Streets Now, who is campaigning to make public sexual harassment a punishable offence, as they’ve done in many other countries like France and Holland. Also, they’re trying to get sexual harassment onto the curriculum in schools, which I think is an extremely needed thing – I needed it when I was in school. So yeah, I think the next stage needs to be bringing it onto curriculums and bringing it into the legislation.
Yeah, I totally agree. I feel like there’s really just no basis that people are taught with how to deal with sexual harassment. Or how to move forward after things like this happen to them, so that would be really helpful.
Yeah, totally. And there’s basically no accountability or deterrent at all. So you can say, ‘Oh yeah, sexual harassment is bad. It shouldn’t be happening,’ but if there are literal laws protecting harassers and clauses which mean you can get away with shouting at whoever on the street with no accountability whatsoever, then what message are you really sending out to people?
What advice would you give for survivors of sexual harassment and assault?
I would say speak to somebody about it whether that is telling someone online, telling a close friend, telling a family member, talking to one of the incredible organisations that I’ve worked with before like Solace Women’s Aid and Refuge – there are so many incredible resources out there for you to talk to people anonymously or not. But, the first stage is just having that conversation with somebody that you trust and surrounding yourself with supportive communities. There are so many supportive communities out there and accounts which are dedicated to supporting survivors. I would say try to talk to somebody who you trust and who you’re close to.
Listen to your female friends, listen to your non-binary friends, listen to your trans friends. Ask them about their experience, and listen to their stories with open ears.
And one thing I love about Cheer Up Luv and the podcast is that I feel like it takes away the stigma of sexual harassment in a way, and I think it’s just not talked about enough. What do you think others, especially cis straight men who may not have experienced this, can do to support survivors?
I would say listen to your friends. Listen to your female friends, listen to your non-binary friends, listen to your trans friends. Ask them about their experience, and listen to their stories with open ears. One of the things that made me start doing what I do in the first place was having an extremely infuriating conversation with some of my cis male straight friends who were in complete shock and disbelief, and dismissed all of my experiences with sexual harassment– I was so infuriated that I started the project. I realised that, of course, if you’re not seeing it or experiencing it yourself, and you’re also not really hearing the stories of your friends – you’re not really hearing them spoken about in a way without shame. I think being able to have these kinds of conversations in a really frank way invites other people to reflect on their own experiences and brings out solidarity between listeners and guests.
I think that’s one of the main things about it – that it’s relatable. You go on Instagram, and you read the stories, and you say, ‘Oh, something similar happened to me.’ That’s what I wanted to do with the section of the podcast that’s reading out submitted stories of sexual harassment from the community because these isolated experiences feel very isolated while you’re experiencing them, but actually, when you read them out and share them you realise that they are shared experiences. So many other people would have gone through something similar, so I think it’s really important to be able to share these stories and know that you’re not alone.
You can catch up on The Cheer Up Luv podcast here.
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