Meet Tarana Burke, the original creator of #MeToo... 10 years ago

Meet Tarana Burke, the original creator of #MeToo... 10 years ago

#MeToo turned into a viral campaign after Alyssa Milano wrote a call-out on Twitter asking people to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault using the hashtag

When news reports revealed how Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had allegedly sexually assaulted and harassed numerous women over several years, thousands of women took to social media to share their personal stories of harassment using two words: Me Too. The hashtag took over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms as a way to bring visibility to how many women have been subjected to that kind of abuse. Many media outlets credited actress Alyssa Milano, who wrote a call-out on Twitter asking people to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault using the phrase, for the viral campaign.

Activist Tarana Burke started the 'Me Too' campaign in 2007, long before hashtags even existed. 

However, not many people know that there's a great history behind the two—now powerful—words from the campaign. Firstly, Alyssa Milano is not the original creator of the #MeToo campaign. It was actually started more than 10 years ago by a black woman from Philadelphia named Tarana Burke, as a way to support young women of color who had been victims of abuse. Burke, an activist, has always raised her voice against injustice and especially spoken at length about sexual assaults. 

Alyssa Milano is not the original creator of the #MeToo campaign. (Getty Images)

The term was used 10 years ago to support sexual assault victims 

As the movement picked up speed, journalist Britni Danielle pointed out that Tarana Burke began the crusade 10 years ago, particularly for women of color. Danielle shared a video of Burke where she was seen talking about what the moment meant for her. "Shout out to my girl @taranaburke who has been advocating for assault victims & saying #MeToo for years," she tweeted. 

It started as a campaign to help people understand when they are being sexual assaulted

Milano appeared unaware of the campaign's first incarnation when she first asked women to participate. The actress has since acknowledged Burke's movement, and tweeted on Tuesday: 'I was just made aware of an earlier #MeToo movement, and the origin story is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.'

However, what's important is that both the campaigns were started to  unify those who’ve been victims of sexual violence. Burke's campaign, however, was a voice for women of color in particular.

In an interview with the Ebony Magazine, Burke opened up about the how it all began.  

She told the magazine that "Me Too" was a call for unifying all the women who had or were facing sexual assault. Ten years ago, rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren't going well and the only possible way that Burke could find at that point was to ensure that everyone had one other's back. 

However, Burke had never started "Me Too" with an aim of making it a viral campaign or a slogan to be chanted across the nation. It was meant for a cause that was bigger than everything and deep in the hearts of the people who had survived the assaults. 

"It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible,” Burke told the magazine. With the motto "Empowerment through empathy", Burke wanted to bring a big change around the world.  

Talking to BuzzFeed News, Burke said: "It's really about survivors talking to survivors and it started in that way, to support young women of color who did not know where to turn, did not have any vital support in the healing process, and to help them get an entry point to healing." 

However, "Me Too" was first started as a campaign and not as a hashtag. Burke, now 44, was a youth worker when a young girl named Heaven told her she was being abused by her mother's boyfriend.  

Unfortunately for her, Burke was not prepared to answer that question and had asked the girl to go and meet another counselor. But for years afterwards, Burke always remembered that she wished she could have told that girl 'me too'. "I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper, 'me too,'" she said. 

After the incident, Burke knew she had to do something and hence, she started the programme Girls for Gender Equity, an organization that works to empower young women of color. The reason that Me Too was started was to provide people with a forum to talk about things freely. 

"It started off as a community campaign because a lot of times we take it for granted whether people even know they survived a thing," said Burke. She recalls many incidents where various girls from different age groups came up to her and opened up about their assaults, and with the help of the campaign, these girls had a language which helped them understand what an assault actually meant.  

When asked by BuzzFeed about what she thought of "Me Too", the hashtag that became viral, Burke said: "Social media is so immediate and in your face that I know many people have been helped and many people who have been traumatized by their entire timeline filled with 'me too'." 

She believes that now that people have come out and spoken about it, the world needs a forum where they are given the space to "process what they've experienced, process what's happening, to go through this moment and figure out what to do now." 

At the same time, Burke did not hesitate to mention how she thought that Weinstein's case received a lot of media attention also because it included a number of white actresses. "The truth of the matter is [the Harvey Weinstein allegations] have been amplified because these were white women who were victimised, and it was in protection and in support of white women," Burke said. 

Burke also brought light on how there have been several cases of black women being sexually abused but they are "publicly ridiculed, questioned, and people don't raise up in support of." Since the beginning, Burke wanted the campaign to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of their age, gender or color. 

"I think the way in which this grew, and the way many of these moments grow is not completely inclusive. But that's part of the work too. We find ways to amplify our voices and include our stories and to make sure those most marginalized are centered in this work," she told BuzzFeed. 

Burke continues to work towards helping people who have been sexually assaulted and hopes that many other will lend their voice in support of the same.

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