Actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.
She urged any women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write two words on Twitter: "Me too."
"If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," wrote the actress, who is known for her roles in "Who's the Boss?," "Melrose Place" and "Charmed," and as a host on "Project Runway All Stars."
Milano starred in "Charmed" alongside Rose McGowan, one of film producer Harvey Weinstein's accusers. She is also friends with Weinstein's wife, Georgina Chapman, and wrote in a blog post that she was sickened by the "disturbing" sexual abuse allegations against him.
Women listened. Within hours, tweets with the words "me too" began appearing in droves. By 3 o'clock Monday morning, almost 200,000 #metoo tweets were published by Twitter's count. The stories came pouring forth on Facebook as well with nearly 80,000 people said to be "talking about this" by the wee hours Monday.
The messages were striking in their simplicity, and in the sheer number of them. Those two words soon became a hashtag, the top trend nationwide on Twitter and yet another rallying cry for women – and men – who have experienced some type of sexual harassment or assault.
Many shared personal stories of their experiences:
– There was the woman who said she was assaulted by a man who pretended to work at a local YMCA, and the woman who said she was groped in an elevator by a superior who was nearly two decades older. "I never told anyone," she said.
– Another recounted how in the sixth grade, a group of boys held her up against a wall as they pulled up her shirt to "see if I stuffed my bra with Charmin or Bounty."
"The boys barely got a slap on the wrist but I was socially ostracized because I 'couldn't take a joke,'" she said.
– A number of men shared their stories as well, including one who said he was raped by two men in high school and has never gotten over it.
Others were simpler.
"By my mom's then boyfriend," one tweet said.
"at 8, at 12, at 14 at 19 #MeToo," said another.
"Me too, my mother too, my sister too, my grandmother too, my best friends too," said another.
A number of celebrities joined in, including actresses Rosario Dawson, Debra Messing and Anna Paquin, admitting they too had dealt with similar experiences. Actress Gabrielle Union and singer Lady Gaga also tweeted the hashtag.
The #MeToo Twitter campaign was at least the second of its kind since decades of sexual abuse allegations emerged against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
On October 5, the day the New York Times expose revealed the claims against Weinstein, thousands of people took to Twitter to share their own encounters with sexual harassment in the workplace, using the hashtag #MyHarveyWeinstein.
Just over a year ago, a similar response, under the hashtag #NotOkay, followed a leaked 2005 "Access Hollywood" video in which Donald Trump boasted about kissing and groping women.
Each time this has happened, predatory behavior once shrouded in secrecy, and still tolerated in many settings, has become a little more public. Victims who may have suffered in silence seem to feel liberated, knowing they're not alone.
Some women and victims of sexual assault expressed that Sunday's stream of tweets felt empowering. For others, the sheer volume of posts – the pervasiveness of the issue – was disturbing. As Natalie Gouché wrote on Facebook:
"As I read all of the #Me Too posts out there I feel heartbroken. So many women have been sexually assaulted. And many in their youth. As I think to myself "it's never happened to me." I realize that while I've not been sexually assaulted I have been sexually harassed (many times before.) Sadly that's the case with most women at some point in their lives right? . . . Seeing so many women vocalize that they have been sexually assaulted or harassed gives more women the courage and bravery to speak up, tell someone, and not feel so ashamed."
"We shouldn't have to out ourselves as survivors in order for people to grasp the magnitude of how systemic assault & harassment are," one tweet read.
Days earlier, a different Twitter campaign spread in response to the social media platform's temporary suspension of the account of actress Rose McGowan, after she had tweeted about Weinstein.
In solidarity, scores of women vowed to leave Twitter all day on Friday, and used the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter.
Twitter said it banned the actress because she tweeted a private phone number, violating its service terms. After the backlash, Twitter lifted the suspension and said it would "be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future."
Milano joined in the boycott, tweeting that Friday would be the first day in over 10 years that she wouldn't tweet.
McGowan joined the "me too" movement overnight.
Milano spoke out against Weinstein on her website, Patriot not Partisan, on Oct. 9, four days after the New York Times story was published.
She said the statement was "complicated" for personal reasons, including the fact that she is good friends with Weinstein's wife, who has since said she is leaving the film producer. The Weinsteins also have two young children Milano's children have known their entire lives, Milano wrote.
"It is because of my love" for Weinstein's wife and children "that I haven't publicly commented on this until now," Milano wrote. "Please don't confuse my silence for anything other than respect for a dear friend and her beautiful children."
"This is not an uncommon occurrence," she added. "This is a sick culture. Men like Harvey Weinstein are around every corner. Men who undermine women and their strength, ability and intelligence exist everywhere."