Tarana Burke is founder of the Me Too movement and chief vision officer of the Me Too International Organization. Burke started the initiative in 2006 to raise awareness about sexual harassment and abuse, before its hashtag #MeToo went viral in 2017 — that was when the Harvey Weinstein story broke, thrusting Burke into the spotlight.
Here, to mark five years of the #MeToo movement revolutionizing Hollywood, Burke writes an open letter to survivors of sexual abuse...
The world has shifted in a myriad of ways in the five years since the internet exploded with the hashtag that changed all of our lives. There has been a lot of discussion lately about the wins and losses and ups and downs of this movement, but I want to take a moment to talk directly to you.
As much as people may want to forget you, this movement would not be possible without your labor. Jerhonda, I can’t imagine the wrestling you had to do before making the leap to reveal yourself to the world. You were a “silence breaker,” even if they didn’t call your name, and your courage was a catalyst for the world to finally start stepping in the right direction. Thank you.
If I have learned anything over the last five years, it’s that the world doesn’t truly understand what it means to be a survivor of sexual violence — especially in the public eye. There were a lot of well known names listed when the “biggest story of the year” broke in 2017. The interest might be in the celebrity, but the investment should always be in survivors.
And there have been so many: From Aurora to Ashley, Rose to Gretchen, Lupita to Lili, we see you, we believe you and we thank all of you. You didn’t have to lift your voices. You didn’t have to come out of the shadows. But you did, and you opened a portal that won’t close anytime soon.
That open portal has led to some landmark judicial decisions. But please know, those court outcomes aren’t a marker for the progress of this movement — your strength is the marker. Annabella, Mimi, Jessica, Dawn, Tarale, Lauren, you carried so many others with you in that courtroom. Your ability to give voice to your trauma in the face of the very one who thought you could be silenced speaks to the triumph of this movement, and that can never be measured by victories or losses in a system that continues to fail us. As survivors, we are forever grateful.
These last five years have not been the same for all survivors. Jenny, Sil Lai, Drew, Alexia and Sherry, we still have an uphill battle, but please know that you will always be counted as pioneers. Women, girls and femmes — both Black and of color — have been pushed out of the “Me Too” narrative, despite the movement’s origins. Lisa, Kitti, Lisette and Asante, I’m talking to you, too. The courage you showed matters immensely. It made space for others, like Dylan, to come forward. We are thankful for your sacrifice because I know it comes with an added burden. Your voices are helping to change that.
Speaking of change, Brendan, Anthony, Terry, Alexander, Jimmy and Alex, your courage to speak up, not only in support of the movement, but to share your own stories was a game-changer. The idea that this is just a woman’s movement is a dangerous one and leaves out men, transgender and non-binary people. I know it was difficult and remains difficult. I’m often asked what role men should play in this movement, but please know that we understand that mens’ first role in the “Me Too” movement is often as survivors. We see you — and all men — as an integral part of this work. Thank you.
I often think about how unfair it is that those of us surviving in public are so misunderstood, especially when we decide to dedicate our lives to fighting back. Lou, Alison, Susan, Adama, Jessica B., your tireless efforts do not go unnoticed. Despite what the backlash would have you believe, there is more support out in the world for us and our work than there ever has been — and it’s working. Thank you.
Hopefully, as more of our stories are given space to breathe and live in the world, it will help people understand the true cost of survival. Chanel, your amazing memoir is an example of how.
This movement is built to last because we are a community whose strength, vision, grace and empathy makes space for each other. There is no glory in survival — it is simply what we have to do. I know all of us, if given the opportunity, would lead completely different lives unaffected by this violence we have endured, not just at the hands of of the people who harmed us, but by the people who insist that we be poked, prodded, demonized and dismissed, simply for wanting to tell our truth. Lindsey, Charlotte, Paz, Andrea, Amber, Constance and everyone else who dared to free themselves from a burden that was never theirs to carry in the first place, we thank you for your labor. Society owes you a debt.
As we reflect on the last five years, I hope you feel enormous pride in what you have accomplished. I hope that pride is felt by those who laid the groundwork for us to get here and my colleagues and comrades in this work today.
To those survivors named here — and the scores and scores that are unnamed — I hope that you see that this movement is not just defined by the laws that were changed or the cases won and lost, but by what was made possible by two simple words and countless emboldened hearts.
With all my love and gratitude…
Tarana Burke was honored as one of Variety’s Power of Women honorees in 2018, and has been on the Variety500 list, which recognizes the 500 most powerful individuals in the entertainment business.