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Posted: December 06, 2017

Before Alyssa Milano, #MeToo began with activist Tarana Burke 10 years ago

Activist Tarana Burke created the Me Too movement over 10 years ago to  amplify the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault and exploitation, particularly women of color.
@strangebirdproductions
Activist Tarana Burke created the Me Too movement over 10 years ago to amplify the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault and exploitation, particularly women of color.

By Kelcie Willis, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

In wake of mounting sexual harassment and assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, Alyssa Milano tweeted a call to victims to share their stories. 

“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” the actress wrote in October.

The hashtag spread far and wide, but Milano isn’t the originator of using the phrase to bring attention to these stories. That credit belongs to Tarana Burke, a New York-based sexual assault, abuse and exploitation activist.

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“It's not about a viral campaign for me,” Burke told CNN Oct. 17. “It’s about a movement.”

CNN reported that Burke began the movement -- the genesis of which happened in 1996 -- when she was a youth camp director and heard a young girl’s story of abuse.

“For the next several minutes this child ... struggled to tell me about her ‘stepdaddy’ or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body…” Burke wrote on the Just Be youth organization website. “I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore…which turned out to be less than 5 minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could ‘help her better...’

“I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain,” she wrote, later adding, “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.”

Burke told CNN she began the movement to help young women of color who survived sexual exploitation, abuse and assault. 

“It started with young people and I quickly realized adults needed it too,” she said. “When you experience trauma and meet other people that have a similar experience, and you show empathy for each other, it creates a bond.”

#MeToo continues to be tweeted and shared on other social media spaces, including Facebook and Instagram. 

“Somebody asked me, does this (campaign) amplify your work? And it does in a certain way, but also when this hashtag dies down, and people thinking about it, I'll still be doing the work,” Burke told the Los Angeles Times

“I think the viral moment is great but the amplification of that -- I worry about disclosing their status as survivors en masse on social media and not having space to process,” she told CNN. “I worry about survivors coming on to social media and being bombarded with messages of ‘me too.”

Milano has since tweeted that she was made aware of the origin of the movement. “(T)he origin story is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring,” she wrote with a link to the Just Be website.

Before then, some were critical, Ebony magazine reported. To a number of women of color on Twitter, Milano’s elevation of #MeToo and the day-long Twitter boycott following Rose McGowan’s temporary account deactivation ignored the fact that black women and other women of color are excluded from conversations. 

“Where was the boycott when actress and comedian Leslie Jones was harassed by trolls to the point of deleting her account for months?” writer Ashley C. Ford wrote in a Refinery29 essay.

“I think that women of color use social media to make our voices heard with or without the amplification of White women,” Burke told Ebony. “I also think that many times when White women want our support, they use an umbrella of ‘women supporting women’ and forget that they didn’t lend the same kind of support.”

“I don’t think it was intentional but somehow sisters still managed to get diminished or erased in these situations,” she added. “A slew of people raised their voices so that that didn’t happen.”


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