The Guardian

Me Too founder Tarana Burke: ‘You have to use your privilege to serve other people’

After Weinstein, Burke’s slogan was adopted overnight by people sharing their experiences of rape and sexual assault. The women’s activist is using her high profile to help the young women she has spent decades fighting for – those who have suffered abuse, and don’t have a voice
Tarana Burke at her office in Brooklyn, New York. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

Last October – three months and a lifetime ago – Tarana Burke was sitting in bed, scrolling through Twitter, when some unusual activity caught her eye. The 44-year-old had 500 followers and no great taste for social media: her work with survivors of sexual violence, mainly young women of colour, didn’t lend itself to public pronouncement. Twelve years earlier she had set up Me Too, an activist group that she thought, in her wildest dreams, might one day amount to a Me Too bumper sticker on somebody’s car – a kind of bat signal between survivors of sexual violence – but that on most days had no public presence at all. For her kind of work to be done right, she believed, most of it needed to be done in the dark.

What she saw on Twitter therefore made Burke jump out of her skin. Ten days earlier, Harvey Weinstein had been spectacularly exposed by the New York Times as the subject of multiple accusations of sexual assault, and there on screen, carrying the hashtag #MeToo, other women had begun sharing their stories. Burke didn’t know that the actor Alyssa Milano had stumbled on the phrase, unaware of its origins, and urged survivors of sexual aggression to use it. Nor could she know that, in the coming weeks, the Me Too hashtag would be used more than 12 million times, resulting in an extraordinary outpouring of pain, and a handful of high-profile men losing their jobs. All she knew that night

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