Three years after the Me Too movement went viral, the fight against sexual violence is still deeply intertwined with many other social justice issues. The coronavirus pandemic has made some people more vulnerable to assault and harassment. Racism and police brutality have continued to put women and LGBTQ people of color at a higher risk of sexual assault by law enforcement. And the presidential election features two candidates who have been accused of sexual assault or misconduct.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement and a longtime activist, knows people are outraged ― and that many of them are overwhelmed. So she and the Me Too organization, in collaboration with creative data marketing agency FCB/SIX, are launching a new digital platform that allows activists, both longtime and newer to the movement, to educate themselves and get involved.
“I think one of the mistakes that we make on the movement side is that there’s so much judgment around what it means to be an activist or what it means to be active. And if you’re not doing it a certain way, then you’re not really contributing. And that’s not true,” Burke told HuffPost.
Me Too Act Too is a crowd-sourced digital platform that gives “survivors, advocates and allies tools to work toward a world free of sexual violence,” according to the organization. The website is meant to be an accessible tool for people who may not see themselves as career activists or who do not have the ability to devote a large amount of time to this work.
“If you are an armchair activist who is only able to post things on Twitter or Instagram or who only has an hour a week to contribute, but you do still feel passionate right now, you can do this,” she added.
If you are an armchair activist who is only able to post things on Twitter or Instagram or who only has an hour a week to contribute, but you do still feel passionate right now, you can do this. Tarana Burke, Me Too founder
The website provides hundreds of resources and actions for users. Some are as small as movies to watch, books to read or podcasts to listen to that will help people understand how rape culture works. Other tools are larger, like helping users register to vote, donate to organizations or attend educational conferences and speaking series. The platform also lets users create a personalized plan for every day actions they can take to help end sexual violence.
HuffPost spoke with Burke about the Me Too Act Too platform and the fight against sexual violence in the time of COVID-19, a movement for racial justice and a tumultuous election.
What do you hope Me Too Act Too will do?
The work to end sexual violence needs folks who are willing to march and join campaigns and volunteer and donate, but it also needs people who are invested in educating themselves about the realities of sexual violence.
We have what we call micro actions on the platform, which includes things like read this book, listen to this podcast, watch this movie, learn about this topic. Because what I want ― if you can’t join the march ― when you have jury duty, I want you to go into that courtroom with a body of information that helps you understand survivor silence. And why somebody would go back to the person afterwards. I need you to understand and not think of the woman who got drunk and was wearing a string bikini. Fundamentally, I need you to understand how sexual violence works, what the landscape looks like, the breadth of things that happen under the umbrella of sexual violence. That is just as important as you joining a march, if not more.
Everybody will not be able to say Me Too because that is very specific to people who have experienced this violence, but everybody can act ― we can all act too. We all can play a part. And that’s what this is about.
It sounds like you’re meeting people where they’re at.
What do you hope survivors and other users of this platform take away from their experience?
For survivors, I think it sends a beautiful message that we’re not out here alone. This next step is an addition to that. That was space for those of us who have experienced sexual violence. This expands that real estate and says: For people who have experienced it and people who haven’t experienced it but recognize the humanity in wanting to end sexual violence, there is space for all of us.
And, quite honestly, people who have already survived sexual violence, they have done enough labor. That’s it. It should not be required to both survive the violence and also make a path for everybody else.
We have to figure out a way to make people feel connected to the work to end sexual violence in the same way they feel connected to climate change, to ending gun violence or mass incarceration. It’s a social justice issue that impacts our communities, and we should all be connected to and invested in the interruption of it. All of us.
Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed thousands of people take to the streets to protest police brutality against people of color, led by Black Lives Matter. Can you talk to me about how the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements intersect and why it’s so important to highlight this intersection?
If we’re going to talk about police brutality, then we have to talk about the breadth of police brutality. Excessive force is the No. 1 complaint against police in this country. We have watched the police, with impunity, kill and use excessive force against Black people and people of color. We largely see and hear about men, but it also happens to women. So Black women are also very closely tied to this push to end excessive force or murder at the hands of law enforcement. But there’s another part to that. After police brutality, the second highest complaint against law enforcement is sexual violence. The work to end abuses at the hand of law enforcement is inextricably linked to the work of ending sexual violence.
We are people with multitudes. These issues have multiple layers to them. And sexual violence isn’t just about what media mogul is behaving badly or what sports figure is making headlines. We have to see this issue more expansively. There’s actually very few social justice issues that are not inextricably linked to sexual violence.
We’re nearly eight months into an unprecedented public health crisis that has shut down much of the country and the world. Why is it important to continue to discuss sexual and domestic violence during this time?
One of the things that coronavirus has done in this country is it’s upended these notions people have about safety and it’s made people pay attention to things like intimate partner violence and sexual violence. We’ve also had to restructure conversations around child sexual abuse. When I think about restaurant workers and people who experience harassment at their jobs, there’s less oversight now because of the pandemic. It makes people who are already in precarious situations even less safe.
We did this survey about how coronavirus was affecting survivors and we found that white survivors said things like, “I missed my appointment with my lawyer to discuss my case.” But what we’re hearing from survivors of color is, “I can’t eat. I can’t feed my children. Because I had to leave my partner because of abuse.” These are overlapping issues that have been compounded by this virus.
We’re just weeks away from a presidential election ― of which both candidates have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct and assault ― what would you say to survivors who are grappling with voting or are feeling lost right now?
People who have judgment about survivors who are saying things like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna vote.” Those people need to ease up. Because it really is difficult to make that decision, I get it. And I will not put myself in a position of trying to judge a person who’s grappling with that decision.
If I had a choice in a fight to pick my opponent, then I would always choose the opponent that I think I have a better chance with. Getting the current administration out of office does not mean that the incoming administration is some saving grace. It doesn’t mean our work is done or our fight is over. It means that we are trying to find an opponent that will at least come to the table. We don’t even have space to negotiate in this administration. While it may not be ideal for a lot of people, we have to go into this election knowing that whoever wins we will still have to call for accountability and we will still have to call for transparency.
I acknowledge with full wholeheartedness that this is a difficult moment. As my friend Glennon Doyle, the author, says, “We can do hard things.” And for those moments, when we feel like we can’t do hard things, we don’t hold it against each other. We step in to support each other.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.