Recorded on October 25 at UC Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix, this panel discussion focused on the limits of what can be learned about sexual violence and harassment from personal narratives that are shared online, as well as the question of what is missed in survey data related to sexual violence and harassment. Panelists included:
- Laura Nelson (Moderator): Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley
- Billy Curtis: Director of Gender Equity Resource Center, UC Berkeley
- Aya de Leon: Lecturer, African American Studies, UC Berkeley; Director, Poetry for the People
- Lisa García Bedolla: Professor, Graduate School of Education, , UC Berkeley
- Edward Wasserman: Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley
This event was jointly sponsored by Social Science Matrix and the Special Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor on SVSH. It was presented as part of a Social Science Matrix Research Team entitled “Community Conversations on Sexual Violence and Harassment: Narratives of Activism, Inclusion, Confidentiality, Accountability, and Healing”.
About the Panel
The #MeToo movement has demonstrated the power of using social media in activism. As hashtags flooded social media pages, survivors from all over the country went public with their personal experiences of abuse from powerful people. Personal narratives have always driven social justice. By contrast, research into SVSH has focused on quantitative data obtained from surveys and incident reports.
This raises two interesting questions. One is whether the people providing the information are representative of those impacted by SVSH, or whether it is a skewed sample. Volunteered narratives on social media are generally produced by people who have access to technology and, due to societal position or the passage of time, have capacity to provide their stories. This corpus of narratives intrinsically omits many marginalized populations, including those disproportionately impacted by sexual violence.
The other question is whether the kinds of information being provided offer a complete picture, even for those individuals who are more thoroughly represented—for example, undergraduate populations on college campuses. Narratives are challenging to generalize from in an era where people expect hard facts, statistics, and p values. But surveys inevitably obtain information out of context, which is problematic given that sexual violence is a subjective, context-dependent experience. It is necessary to have a multilayered picture of the conditions allowing sexual violence to occur in order to identify interpersonal and institutional solutions.