It all started with a single tweet.
Outraged by Donald Trump’s boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and forcing himself on them, Canadian author Kelly Oxford urged her hundreds of thousands of followers to share their recollections of the first time they were sexually assaulted.
What she didn’t expect was the seemingly unstoppable chain she set in motion, with more than a million women sharing their experiences, and with that placing an explosive subject front and center of the campaign to become America’s next president.
A 39-year-old writer, Oxford launched the Twitter appeal within hours of Friday’s release of a 2005 Trump video, using the same word that Republican presidential candidate Trump employed in the video.
“Women, tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats,” she wrote.
Oxford then went first: “Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”
And with those words, the Los Angeles-based blogger became a major Internet celebrity.
Within an hour, she had already racked up thousands of witness accounts, with the hashtag #notokay taking social media by storm.
The next day, Oxford tweeted to express surprise at the rate of responses: around 50 per minute and well over a million at that point.
I posted my assault, asked women to share theirs, thinking "if no one discusses I'll pull it down." 9.7million later pic.twitter.com/h1y7iIiU7M— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 9, 2016
Most were women who, sometimes with modesty, at times in crude details, describe in several words how a parent, a friend of a friend, a professor or a stranger once abused them.
But joining the chorus were also some men who were either themselves victims of violence or sought to distance themselves from Trump’s belligerent rhetoric and behavior.
Nearly five days on, the rhythm has slowed but the witness accounts keep pouring in.
While it is still too early to tell if Trump can scramble back up to the top of the polls after the hit he took following the revelations of his lewd, decade-old comments, the episode has reignited a fierce debate about sexual violence in the United States.
After dozens of Republican figureheads publicly withdrew their support from Trump, some of his backers dismissed the comments as simply “locker room talk.”
Jean Kilbourne, an author and speaker known for her work on the image of women in advertising, hailed the success of #notokay.
“For years, for a lot of us, we would tend to minimize it because the culture tends to minimize it, even though it has a lasting impact,” Kilbourne said.
“It is just extremely important to realize how many women have had these experiences.”
She then added, with a laugh: “Donald Trump has actually managed to bring a very serious issue in the campaign.”