Brooke Obie Interviews #MeToo Movement Founder Tarana Burke
Many became aware of the Me Too movement in October 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano asked followers on Twitter to tweet #MeToo if they’d been victims of sexual assault. The hashtag quickly went viral, but those familiar with the history of the phrase in relation to sexual assault knew that it was started more than a decade ago by Tarana Burke. A survivor herself, she created this rallying cry in conjunction with her non-profit organization for girls, Just Be, Inc. to showcase the prevalence of sexual violence in our country and to amplify the voices of survivors.
The rise of the movement, and subsequent efforts by Burke’s supporters for her to get appropriate credit for her work, have enabled her to share her message on an international stage. She was on the Red Carpet at the Golden Globes in January sharing her message of hope and healing for survivors of sexual violence. In Times Square, Burke and her Me Too message received a global spotlight when she led the countdown and ball drop on New Year’s Eve. Time Magazine chose Burke as one of the “Silence Breakers,” named Person of the Year for 2017, though they opted for celebrities and others on the cover. Still, the media coverage has helped catapult her message of support for victims and the creation of a new culture that listens to and protects victims and eradicates sexual violence.
Her commitment to speaking out and helping others grew out of her own experience, but Burke didn’t always have the words or a feeling of safety to describe her own trauma.
“I couldn’t even identify why I felt the way I felt or where these feelings were coming from,” she tells Guideposts.org of her years following abuse. “In a lot of ways, I didn’t know some of the things that happened were bad.”
When she was in her twenties and not yet ready to face her own childhood abuse, a young girl at the youth camp where Burke worked came up to her privately to share a harrowing experience.
Before the girl could speak, Burke knew from the look on her face that the girl would share a trauma that would trigger painful memories, and Burke tried everything she could to avoid the conversation. But the girl wanted to tell this story about her mother’s boyfriend, whom the girl called “Stepdaddy,” and all the ways he was violating her body. Burke couldn’t handle it. After less than five minutes, she sent the girl away to another camp counselor to get help.
Burke harbored deep regret for not being able to at least say to the girl, “Me, too.”