The #MeToo movement correlates with a sharp increase in internet searches related to sexual harassment and/or assault, per study data published in JAMA Internal Medicine. These data underscore the scope of sexual assault and harassment in the United States and reflect a need for structural-level interventions.

Initiated by actress Alyssa Milano following public accusations of sexual misconduct against film producer Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo movement encouraged survivors to share their stories on social media. Using raw search count estimates abstracted from Comscore, investigators monitored the volume of Google searches related to sexual assault and harassment in the months following the inception of #MeToo. Analyses were limited to searches originating in the United States and included all queries using the term “sexual” with “harassment” or “assault” between January 1, 2010 and June 15, 2018. Investigators also monitored the volume of searches regarding reporting of sexual misconduct and preventative training. Search volumes were reported as a ratio of all Google searches and were adjusted for changes in Google use over time. A counterfactual scenario was manufactured from predicted search volumes, thus providing “expected” query numbers for comparison.

Sexual harassment and/or assault searches exceeded the expected volume by 86% (95% CI, 60%-117%; P <.001). Observed search volumes remained higher than expected for 8 months following the initiation of #MeToo. The number of relevant searches ranged from 40 to 54 million from October 15, 2017 to June 15, 2018. Searches related to reporting and preventive training were 30% (95% CI, 23%-39%; P <.001) and 51% (95% CI, 43%-60%; P <.001) higher than predicted between the beginning of #MeToo and the conclusion of the observation period.

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These study data indicate the power of grassroots campaigns in raising awareness about public health issues. The scope of #MeToo engagement on social media reflects a larger need for structure-level interventions from policy and health officials. In response to a clearly expressed public need, public health officials must expand the availability of resources for victims and invest in resources for preventative training.

Reference

Caputi TL, Nobles AL, Ayers JW. Internet searches for sexual harassment and assault, reporting, and training since the #MeToo movement [published online December 21, 2018]. JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.5094