Founder Of ‘Me Too’ Movement Fears Narrative Being Hijacked From Helping Survivors Heal

By Jennifer Smola
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Now that “Me Too” has become a global phenomenon, founder Tarana Burke says she hopes to shift the narrative to how best to help those survivors heal and connect with resources.

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Tarana Burke was in her early 20s, fresh out of college and working at a youth leadership camp when she was confronted with a child’s story of sexual abuse.

She froze, unsure of what to say.

Burke quickly directed the child to a counselor, feeling unequipped to help herself. But Burke’s silence weighed on her as soon as the young girl walked away.

“I couldn’t bring myself to tell that child that it happened to me, too,” Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, said at Columbus State Community College’s Courageous Conversations series Monday evening.

Years later, Burke knew she had to incorporate the phrase into her work as a social justice advocate, and six months ago, those two words would spread around the globe overnight, sparking an empowerment movement of victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Burke is credited with first using the phrase in her work more than a decade ago with Just Be Inc., the organization she founded, focusing on the well-being of women and girls of color. But last fall, the #MeToo hashtag went viral after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the phrase, encouraging those on social media to share those two words if they’d been victims of sexual assault or harassment. Her tweet has about 68,000 replies and nearly 25,000 retweets. CBS News reported there were more than 12 million Facebook posts, comments and reactions regarding the phrase in less than 24 hours after it started spreading.

Now that Me Too has become a global phenomenon, Burke said she hopes to shift the narrative to how best to help those survivors heal and connect them with resources. She laments that conversations surrounding Me Too have centered around which powerful person the movement will take down next, or how to date in the Me Too era, or whether or not we can hug one another.

“We’re having the wrong conversations,” said Burke, 44, who is from the Bronx.

“This is about systems. There were systems in place that allowed (perpetrators of sexual violence) to behave the way they behaved,” Burke said. “It has to be a movement about how we dismantle the systems, not the individuals.”
That work is important on college campuses, Burke said, especially as federal Title IX policies — previously put in place to crack down on sexual assaults — are being reviewed and redeveloped.

“Part of the challenge of (Me Too) getting so popular is that people think that the popularity is a solution, and it’s not,” Burke said. “While they’re all talking about Me Too and using it on social media … Title IX is being dismantled right now.”

The work of Me Too must now shift to healing and ways forward, Burke said, because for herself and other survivors of sexual violence, “this pain had to mean something,” she told the audience through tears.

“Our work is about making sure that survivors, that individuals, have the resources they need to craft their own future,” she said. “We can’t define what individual healing looks like … but community healing is something we can define together.”

Burke left the crowd Monday with an invitation:

“If you are ready to do that work, I can only leave you with two words: Me too.”

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