Tarana Burke on why she created the #MeToo movement -- and where it's headed

The hashtag went viral in 2017, but Tarana Burke first started the movement back in 2006. We spoke with the founder of #MeToo about its origins and what specific things need to change to help the victims and prevent cases of sexual assault. Following is a transcript of the video.

Tarana Burke: My name is Tarana Burke, and I’m the founder of the #MeToo movement.

#MeToo is a movement that was founded in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence, in particular black and brown girls, who were in the program that we were running. It has grown since then to include supporting grown people, women, and men, and other survivors, as well as helping people to understand what community action looks like in the fight to end sexual violence.

I was working and living in Alabama at the time, and we started this organisation called Just Be Inc. And that was about teaching the young women who we work with, helping them develop a sense of self-worth. Which we differentiated from self-esteem. Right? Our theory was that you have to build a sense of self-worth before you even have a healthy self-esteem.

We were encountering numbers of girls who were disclosing sexual violence. They were disclosing their experiences. And sometimes they didn’t even know that it was sexual violence. Right? They would just tell us things like … I had a 7th-grade girl, 12 years old, say to me once, her boyfriend was 21 years old. And I thought, that’s not a relationship. That’s a crime.

We put our Myspace page up, and within days … There was no such thing as viral back then. But if there was, this would be as close to that as possible. Within like a week or so, we had so many responses from women who were like, “Thank you for doing this,” “This is really amazing,” “How can we be involved,” “We need help.” And we realised this is bigger than we thought.

People call me a leader of this movement, and I accept that as a title I guess, but I’m a worker more than anything.

I think it’s just helped me to scale up and to expand the work that I’ve been doing and the vision I have for this work. It’s given me a larger platform to speak about it, talk about it, and more resources to actually implement some of these ideas.

#MeToo is essentially about survivors supporting survivors. And it’s really about community healing and community action. Although we can’t define with healing looks like for people, we can we can set the stage and give people the resources to have access to healing. And that means legitimate things like policies and laws that change that support survivors.

For instance, there are rape kits across the country that need to be tested, so that the survivors who were assaulted can find some sort of justice through that system. What are the policies that are in place in the local school around vetting teachers? People at work can organise, take and examine your sexual harassment policy.

The #MeToo Congress bill gets rid of the forced, 90-day cooling-off period that people who work on Capitol Hill have to have before they can file a sexual harassment claim. When that’s passed, that will set a precedent, hopefully, for the country.

A lot of time survivors aren’t even asking for people to be fired. A lot of times they just want their story to be told. They want to say it out loud and have some level of accountability.

We have to talk to survivors for what they need. We are the ones who have to define what justice looks like.

And so the other part of it is around community action. We firmly believe that you can organise around ending sexual violence. People do every day. There are organisations and groups that do that, and I feel like we need to elevate this conversation to a social justice issue.

We have a documentary that we are planning to roll out and just new materials and things of that nature. And then when this viral moment happened, I thought, if the phrase “Me Too” gets popular in this context, that is also around sexual violence, and we’re not here to ground the conversation and give it some context, then we’re gonna get lost. And this work will get lost.

And so I definitely panicked at first. And then I had another layer of panic, because I was like, god there’s millions of women disclosing their experience, oor people disclosing their experience with sexual violence, and there’s no container to process this. There’s nobody here to help them, to walk through what disclosure feels like. What do you do after you put #MeToo?

It’s humbling first of all. It’s deeply humbling to have people invested in this idea that was really essentially started to help our community. But it’s also … it’s hopeful that world is changing to a place where we can have open discussions about sexual violence and how it affects people millions and millions of people around the world.

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