The latest Facebook trend to make the rounds is “Me too,” an exercise in solidarity where women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted post those two simple words in order to demonstrate how widespread the problem really is. Here in Florence, it’s hard to see these words and not think about the last month’s major news story: Two young women were allegedly raped by two Carabinieri (members of Italy’s military police) when the men gave them a ride home from a far-off club. In spite of the backlash these young women knew they would receive, they went to the hospital that night and reported the rapes. In the weeks since, they’ve helped reignite a desperately important conversation about violence against women, and the tendency of society to engage in victim-blaming. In response to the attitude of most mainstream Italian media, a march was organized from Piazzale Michelangelo, where the women danced at the club, to the historic center of the city. Less than a mile and a half overall.
And I almost didn’t go.
Not because I didn’t believe in the issue, but because I was settled in comfortably at home. I had curled up on my bed some hours before with a book, and the forecast included rain for that night. As it got later and later, I kept sneaking guilty looks at my watch; I knew I should go, but I just didn’t want to get up. And what would it have mattered, really? One less face in the crowd was hardly going to make a difference.
In my mind, other faces began to rise up—faces of friends who had been assaulted or raped. Some, like the American students, had been able to come forward, but many had been denied justice. Worse, they had been treated like pariahs while their attackers were coddled and protected. I saw their faces and I thought, How fucking dare you?
I was geared up and was out my door less than ten minutes later. I caught a bus to the base of the hill where Piazzale Michelangelo sits and hiked up with about a dozen other people. As I stood catching my breath at the railing overlooking Florence, glittering below like a city crafted out of starlight, I thought that it was a shame I was seeing such a gorgeous view for such an ugly reason. The last time I’d seen that view, I was sitting on the railing with my friends after a night of dancing, more than a year before.
Because I’ve been to the club where the two young women were picked up by the Carabinieri. I’ve called taxis from the piazzale, and I’ve walked the same route the march took. I know women who’ve been followed. Drugged. Threatened. Violated.
And that’s why every face in the crowd matters: Because the potential for these experiences is universal. The women that these horrible acts of violence are being committed against aren’t just names on a page, they’re real people. And if one in six women will be a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime*, how many do you know?
In the beginning, I could see maybe thirty women gathered around a banner in the middle of the piazzale. But then we began our walk down the hill, and we met a group of well over a hundred. At the bottom of the hill, another group was waiting for us. We picked people up along the way, until the crowd that poured into Piazza della Repubblica some two hours later was over a thousand strong.
This is not meant to be a condemnation against those who didn’t attend that night. Some people had commitments or disabilities that prevented them from marching, and others might not have heard about it at all. Rather, this is a plea for the next time you’re considering staying home when you know you shouldn’t. I promise that it’s worth your discomfort. And if you have to shame yourself into remembering that, the way I did, that’s okay.
What matters is that you go.
*According to U.S. statistics: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence