By Maria Zaldivar
With more and more allegations surrounding sexual assault in the media, people have begun sharing their personal stories using the now viral hashtag “Me Too.” The hashtag can be seen on all social media platforms and began as a movement created by Tarana Burke, who on Wednesday, Nov. 1 explained the background of the Me Too campaign and discussed the sensitive issues of sexual assault with the Hofstra community in the Guthart Cultural Center Theater.
When addressing the popular hashtag, Burke said “It didn’t start then.” She talked about how, contrary to popular belief, the Me Too movement did not begin with a hashtag, but has been in place for over a decade. “It’s not just me that hasn’t been heard for 10 years. There are legions of us who have been doing this work, little, small grassroots organizations that people don’t pay attention to, until something like this. So it takes an effort like this to elevate the conversation to a public discourse.”
The movement began as a project to help survivors such as Burke get better access to mental health services. She began working after she realized that survivors had to go through all types of obstacles in order to talk to a professional. She wanted the information to be accessible.
However, many students became aware of the movement because of its widespread impact on social media. Vonne Van Pelt, a junior accounting student is one of many that saw the hashtag being shared along with stories of sexual abuse.
“I saw the event on social media, and I saw a lot of people on my social media engaging in this topic and posting personal stories on big social media platforms such as Facebook,” Van Pelt said. “I was kind of intrigued and I wanted to know how the movement started and the background.”
The hashtag might not have been how the movement began, but Burke argued that it is the reason why so many people are talking about an issue that has been happening forever.
“I think that [the event was] a great way to raise awareness about things that have been going on in social media and to provide students with support and really to meet the person who created this movement and give them an opportunity to learn from who started it, why she started it and how she started it. And tools that they can use to be activists in their community,” said Allison Vernace, the Title IX officer for student issues.
Vernace mentioned that the event served as a precursor to different activities that organizations such as It’s On Us are going to host throughout the rest of the school year.
Burke highlighted that the success of the movement depends on centering and amplifying marginalized voices. Burke began the movement as one that would accept and support anyone who finds comfort in the words “Me Too.” However, she does not want the movement to become a way of sharing other people’s experiences without their consent, and argues that “for every ‘Me Too,’ there are probably 30 more.”
“…your story is your story to tell in your own time, in your own way. That fear of missing out, people wanting to be a part of the moment, I get that because it’s ground swelling, you see it everywhere, and you think ‘this is the moment, this is the time I can get it out there’ and don’t think about the consequences,” Burke said.
Although the movement did not begin on social media, it has become a way to amplify the message, and to show not only how many people have experienced sexual assault, but how many people support survivors and want to do something about it. Several hashtags such as #HowIWillChange have followed, showing how allies are planning to help end rape culture.
“People didn’t pay attention to my work because sexual violence is not important to people,” Burke said, “It’s just not. It’s important to survivors, it’s important to people who love survivors, but beyond that there are not a lot of people who are interested in doing this work seriously.” Burke mentioned a few other instances when the topic of sexual assault made headlines and argued that sexual assault will always have a face, whether it is Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, etc. but that the conversation needs to pivot in order for things to change.
“The conversation has to shift to talk about boundaries and consent more than it talks about protection. Unless we get the people who are more likely to be perpetrators involved in this conversation then we are just stuck in a cycle,” Burke said.
While the media continues talking about stories related to Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, several activists are focusing on the future of the movement.
“I liked the message of ‘we have the hashtag right now, but what comes after,’” Van Pelt said. “It’s not just being a victim, it is a whole process after you actually acknowledge that you were a victim [of sexual abuse].”