What did the MeToo movement teach you

"It's not about shooting down powerful men"

The problem: Every second woman reports that she has been sexually harassed, but only a fraction of the attacks are reported and prosecuted.
The solution: The founder of the #MeToo movement relies on »Restorative Justice« and help to heal the victims.

When the inventor of #MeToo takes the stage in San Francisco, she can hardly hide her disappointment with where the debate is headed. Because Burke didn't start #MeToo as a hashtag. “If you google #MeToo, you will definitely find 20 articles about how the MeToo movement failed,” says Tarana Burke, 45, at the “Wisdom 2.0 Conference” and wants to clarify what #MeToo is not: “It definitely doesn't work about shooting down powerful men. "

Instead: »When [the actress] Alyssa Milano set off an avalanche with #MeToo, she initially made no demands on it - except to encourage people to share their experiences. The women just tried to find a space where they could speak their truth. They tried to be heard and hoped that they would believe them. "Because that, says Burke, she knows from personal experience:" When something as traumatic as sexual violence happens to you, you close yourself off. One is overwhelmed by feelings of shame. If someone then says: You are not alone in this, that frees you. And if someone is not ready to tell their story, you can just say: Me too, me too. It is effective and gentle. You don't have to tell all the details. "

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The waist-length hair tied back in innumerable small pigtails, wrapped in a wide, flowing, gray-white dress, Tarana Burke seems calm. She never said what exactly happened to her. Only that she herself experienced sexual violence as a teenager. But she likes to tell where her story began: in New York, in the Bronx. That's where she grew up, but the origin of the words #MeToo begins in the deep south of America, in Selma, Alabama. She moved there as a fourteen-year-old teenager and began to get involved in community work with people who had fought for civil and human rights in Martin Luther King's day.

This is important to know: #MeToo didn't start in Hollywood or Washington, with the Weinsteins and Trumps, but in a city full of violence, exclusion and poverty. Selma, Alabama, is known to everyone as the poorest city in Alabama; as the city that regularly tops the top ten most violent cities in America, and of course as the city in which blacks had to eat and study separately from whites until the 1960s, until they followed their demands with "Bloody Sunday" Equality emphasized.

"As a community organizer, we were taught to pick people up where they are and first of all to get them what they need to survive, that is, food, clothing and accommodation." But she slowly realized, says Burke, that it might still be a more fundamental right: the right to integrity. “I've experienced sexual violence myself,” says Burke, “but it was never discussed. Everyone saw very clearly that this was happening in our community, but it was never discussed. «A key experience was when the 14-year-old Heaven confided in her: her stepfather had abused her. “I was so young myself,” recalls Tarana Burke. “I didn't know how to help her, and all I thought was, it happened to me too. Me too. I hear you, I see you, and I believe you. Oh, if only I could have told her that back then! "

The encounter with Heaven made a lasting impression on her, but it took more than ten years before she was able to put her feelings into words in 2005: »The idea was: empowerment through empathy. I am not a social worker, I have no formal training, but I have experience. And I thought to myself that it did mean something that I myself lived with this trauma, with the reality that I had lost the power to make decisions about my body. And I thought: what would have changed things for me when I was 14? What could someone have said to me that would have helped me? «The answer: #MeToo. “The strange thing about sexual violence is that it permeates all layers of society and yet it is so isolated. Each thinks she's the only one and that it doesn't happen to other people or that our experience is different. That is why it is so powerful when you can share this experience with someone else. Nobody wants to be the first to take this step. So the subline reads: You are not alone, it is a movement. "

Burke is disarmingly honest about how she panicked when the ten-year-old slogan #MeToo was suddenly shared a million times last fall. Her 20-year-old daughter had to help her find her way on Twitter. She scrolled through the countless reports on October 15 last year until two o'clock in the morning. “I was afraid that my work would be wiped out, because that's the experience of many black women. But then I read a testimonial from a woman who posted a link to her story, and suddenly I realized: My work is happening right here in front of my eyes. ”Burke wonders how the public, especially the media, has the movement have interpreted. "Do we really have to discuss whether we can still hug?" She asks with an ironic chuckle.

Burke was on the cover of Time, was honored along with other feminists as Personalities of the Year, was invited by Michelle Williams to the Golden Globes and now also at the Oscars. She knows that she has to use these platforms, that she suddenly has the chance - as in San Francisco - to speak in front of thousands of people instead of a few like-minded people as before. “The sudden notoriety only serves me to move this work forward. We need to talk about who is driving the agenda. "

She doesn't really care that Kevin Spacey's star on the Walk of Fame was discreetly taped over. “That people have been fired is the reaction of companies and the media. Women may have the right, but the movement is about two things: helping survivors of sexual violence and making sure they have resources to help them heal. ”Burke has very specific ideas about what MeToo should do. »I have a vision of what the future of MeToo could look like: it's about supporting the victims of sexual violence. Above all, we need to ensure that the least privileged victims have resources for their healing process. We have to make sure that the victims are at the center. "

Tarana Burke is a full-time director of the Girls for Gender Equity organization. »We live in a society in which rape culture is everywhere, a society that has forgotten how to respect human dignity. A person like Harvey Weinstein doesn't exist in a vacuum. There were people who cared less that he attacked women than that he made them millions and billions of dollars. "

Burke says she got thousands of emails “from people who need help. This is what we should focus on: resources for people in search of healing. What can we do in our community so that our communities are safe places where people feel protected? All other questions only distract from the real thing. "

She does not want to comment on the current cases of prominent grabbers and rapists: “It is not my job to cross-examine people who dare to take cover. Sexual violence happens on a spectrum, so accountability has to happen on a spectrum. Common sense tells you that. "

Burke welcomes the fact that the Hollywood initiative "Time's Up" from celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Ashley Judd has now collected 21 million dollars to financially support women who, for example, want to take legal action against sexual violence, but their focus is elsewhere: on the people on the fringes of society who are not on Hollywood's stages, »the black and brown girls, the transgender people, the disabled, the indigenous people who experience the highest rates of sexual violence in this country. One of the first things we do is give women a language so they can talk about it. ”Burke is building a team and a comprehensive information pack for those seeking help. "We will propose a plan for people to form healing groups and to be active locally."

She particularly relies on »Restorative Justice«, a flexible model in which victims and perpetrators find a balance. There is no good term in German for “restorative justice” - it is important that the victims and their concerns are the focus and that the structures are changed that made the violence possible in the first place. “What does justice look like from the survivor's perspective?” Asks Burke. “The normal process is to go to the local police station and file a report. But if you live on the fringes of society, you don't trust the police because you have already experienced injustice and violence from the police. So I'm talking about restorative and transformative justice. In addition, many perpetrators are themselves survivors of sexual violence. That makes the process immensely complicated. We need a clear understanding of what justice is and what people need. This also includes including the perpetrators in the healing process, otherwise it will just be a never-ending cycle. "Or:" #MeToo is an exchange between survivors. What else is it supposed to be? Who else should I say #MeToo to? "

Photo: Reuters