It wasn’t a hashtag then, but activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo campaign in 2007. “Me too” has recently taken on new life in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. A tweet from actress Alyssa Milano suggested that women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed write #MeToo on social media to show the “magnitude of the problem.” So far, #MeToo has been used well over 12 million times on Facebook alone. Though many have been surprised to see so many women posting #MeToo, it’s not shocking given the sobering statistics about sexual assault. In America, there is a sexual assault every 98 seconds.
But for Burke, the “Me Too” campaign is about more than just awareness of the vast problem. After hearing a devastating tale of abuse from a camper when she was working as a youth camp director, Burke didn’t respond by saying “me too.” As she puts it, “I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured.” That haunting experience stuck with her and ultimately led her to create Just Be Inc, a nonprofit that helps young women of color. The mission of Just Be Inc is centered around the “Me Too” statement, as a rallying cry of support from survivor to survivor. It’s a way for women to say “I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.”
Hashtags may not have been around when Burke started the movement, but she has used #MeToo on social media, predating the post-Weinstein viral spread of the hashtag. When she first saw #MeToo spreading after Milano’s tweet, Burke initially felt dread. She told The New York Times that she was concerned because “something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended.” Milano, who had been unaware of Burke’s work, quickly responded when she learned of the origin of the “Me Too” movement. She contacted Burke, tweeted about the origin story, and spoke about it on Good Morning America. Burke responded by saying “It is bigger than me and bigger than Alyssa Milano. Neither one of us should be centered in this work. This is about survivors.”