October 15, 2018; New York Times
In a #MeToo world of viral hashtags and televised Supreme Court hearings, Tarana Burke wants survivors of sexual assault to know that you don’t have to share your wounds to heal.
It’s been one year since the hashtag mushroomed into millions of posts on social media by survivors of sexual assault and violence following a New York Times report of allegations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein harassed and abused women in the entertainment industry for several decades, including many high-profile actresses such as Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd. The Weinstein scandal was followed by a flurry of sexual harassment and assault allegations that have rattled industries ranging from journalism to restaurants to humanitarian aid in the US and spread around the world to countries such as India and China.
As many now know, Burke founded the “Me Too” Movement in 2006 to “help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” On Monday, she opened up on Twitter about the experience of seeing her hashtag amplified without attribution and then embracing the evolution of her movement.
“I was definitely in danger of being erased if YOU ALL Black women and our allies and friends, didn’t speak up. But something else happened too. I watched for hours that first day as more and more stories poured out across social media from survivors,” she wrote. “I was watching thousands of survivors pour their hearts out across social media with no container to process, no support and no one really helping to walk them through disclosure or uplift the power of community for survivors.”
“My work has always centered Black and Brown women and girls. And it always will—but at the heart of it all it supports ALL survivors of sexual violence. And I committed to that work a long time ago so watching people open up with what felt like no covering online was hard. The whole time I was fretting about saving my work and I didn’t realize that ‘my work’ was happening right in front of me.”
In an interview with the New York Times this week, Burke elaborated on the nonprofit’s new initiatives, which will include collecting stories—not of trauma, but of healing. She also argues that survivors are not obligated to speak publicly. It’s a different narrative than what’s been shared by millions of people with the hashtag over the last year.
“We don’t believe in collecting stories of people’s trauma because I don’t think the trauma should be curated,” Burke told the Times. “When you start talking about what you’ve done to cope and how you have developed practices around healing, that’s something that people need to see.”
Because Burke is a thought-leader in this arena. Her full remarks about the complexities of helping survivors are important to heed:
It’s hard because the idea of sharing your story has become so popularized. We are in a time where the more you share about yourself, the more people like you; the more likes you get, the more attention you get on social media. So things are framed so that they have to be public and they have to be popular in order to be valid. What we’re trying to do is counter that narrative and say, “You don’t have to tell your story publicly. You don’t have to tell anybody what happened to you.” You have to get it out—but it doesn’t have to be at a poetry reading. It doesn’t have to be on social media at all. It could be a trusted friend. It could be your journal.
That’s hard for survivors because people are always saying, “Tell your story.” It’s like a balancing act because I have to acknowledge that stories are important, and sometimes saying the words, “This happened to me” and “This is what he did” is cathartic to get out. I think there’s enough evidence in this world of survival and recovery to show that repeating that doesn’t help you, though. Reliving that doesn’t help you.
Burke hopes to call for “a healing” after so much “righteous rage” and to call for accountability.
“We rally around causes, and we protest, and we march, but we don’t ever take time to just sit and focus on what we personally need,” she says. “Some people need this in this moment.”
I really do feel like this is a moment where we lay our burden down at the feet of who’s responsible. If you take an oath or a pledge or whatever to represent the people of this country in any capacity, that includes the people who are survivors of sexual violence, and you should be working to make it less vulnerable to sexual violence.
In looking back, Burke also noted that the country has, not surprisingly, failed to listen to all of the survivors. “I think the media doesn’t really care about the stories of black women and the stories of women of color,” Burke says in the interview. “A lot of folks have slid under the radar.”
According to the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, many women of color appear to be at greater risk of rape, and undocumented women are increasingly fearful of reporting sexual assault due to the administration’s rigid immigration enforcement.
Today, the “Me Too” Movement is increasing its reach and focus, according to its website:
Our goal is also to reframe and expand the global conversation around sexual violence to speak to the needs of a broader spectrum of survivors. Young people, queer, trans, and disabled folks, Black women and girls, and all communities of color. We want perpetrators to be held accountable and we want strategies implemented to sustain long term, systemic change.
The nonprofit has also added two resource libraries to its site to provide healing resources to survivors and advocacy resources for everyone.
As civil society rises, NPQ has asked, will political change follow? We’ll have some new insights in just 20 days. But no matter the outcome of the midterm elections, Tarana Burke will continue to be a force shaping the country’s nonprofit landscape.—Anna Berry