I could have never imagined all that has happened in the past two years. I've been emboldened with hope by the responses from survivors, and I'm endlessly inspired by how far the conversations have gone. Yet, there is still very little space to talk about sexual violence in ways that focus on healing and action. Cases involving high-profile individuals should have signalled a serious, persistent problem, but they were reduced to salacious headlines and tabloid fodder.
The outing of public figures is not the goal of the #MeToo movement. Exposing perpetrators is a start, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem.
Wherever there is a hierarchy, it is likely that there is an undergirding of power, privilege and access. Because of that, it is important to examine the ways that unchecked privilege and power accumulate and are wielded against the most vulnerable. We have to investigate and analyse the culture within systems that consistently allow sexual violence to occur again and again.
What the world recognises as the #MeToo movement was built on the labour of everyday people who survived sexual violence in a number of forms. All at once, millions of people stood and were counted among the number of people who experienced sexual harassment, assault and abuse.
Two years later and all over the world, people are still coming forward, and we're seeing that the dynamics are appallingly similar; women, LGBTQI+ individuals, Indigenous and disabled communities experience sexual harassment and assault at alarming rates, yet they receive disproportionate protections and access to resources.
Fair judgment is not equally afforded to marginalised groups, and without equitable representation, it's more likely that they suffer the consequences of coming forward. The burden of proof and punishment is placed on the survivor.
Moving into 2020, some concrete things must happen in order to build on the momentum we have gained, starting with changing how we talk about the #MeToo movement. This is not a women's movement, it is a survivors' movement created for and by those of us who have endured sexual violence. The goal is to provide a mechanism to support survivors and move people to action. Any other characterisation severely handicaps our ability to move the work forward.
We also need to have more intentional public dialogue about accountability, and not just the kind that focuses on crime and punishment, but on harm and harm reduction. Narrowing our focus to investigations, firings and prison can hinder the conversation and the reality that accountability and justice look different for different people.
Sexual violence happens on a spectrum, so accountability has to happen on a spectrum. And that means various ways of being accountable are necessary. Survivors have to be the ones leading and dictating what that accountability looks like.
In 2006, I launched the "Me Too" movement because I wanted to find ways to bring healing into the lives of black women and girls. But those same women and girls, along with other people of colour, queer people and disabled people, continued to be marginalised in the movement. We won't begin to really understand the impact of sexual violence unless we look at the whole story.
I can't stress how critical our next steps are. What we're facing and what's at stake is bigger than the entertainment industry, bigger than politics. This movement has to be powered by everyday people who vote, who are vocal, who are active, who are tuned in and aware of how an entire culture shift is required to see the change we desire.
In the US we have launched a non-profit organisation committed to survivor-led and survivor-centred pathways to healing and action. In 2020, we will be rolling out our online and field programs, as well as a digital platform that will connect people to actions and campaigns happening in their neighbourhoods. We will continue to work in partnership with foundations to raise $25 million towards ending sexual violence in the next five years.
For too long, survivors have lived in the shadows having to navigate a world that tells them their stories don't matter. This can't continue to be our reality. The work of MeToo builds on the existing efforts to dismantle systems of oppression that allow sexual violence, patriarchy, racism and sexism to persist. We know that this approach will make our society better for everyone, not just survivors, because creating pathways to healing and restoration moves us all closer to a world where everyone knows the peace of living without fear and the joy of living in your full dignity.
I intend to keep doing this work until we get there.
- Tarana Burke is in Australia to receive the 2019 Sydney Peace Prize on behalf of the MeToo movement. The prize will be awarded on November 14.