#MeToo: The history of the sexual harassment campaign sweeping social media

#MeToo is a campaign about the now prominent issue of sexual harassment across all walks of life.

Most recently, it has garnered mainstream awareness after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about the issue. However, the movement actually surfaced ten years ago.

In 1996, activist Tarana Burke, who seeks gender equality and to empower women of colour, was approached by a young girl who opened up to her about her experience with sexual harassment. Taken aback, Burke felt unable to help or comfort the girl.

Sharing the story with non-profit organisation Just Be Inc., Burke said she watched the victim ‘go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper … me too’.

This, she explains, was because she had not dealt with her own experience of sexual harassment and therefore found it hard to help the girl in front of her.

After visiting a local rape crisis centre, Burke was told they would only see women referred from the local police department.

And so the campaign started in 2003 – the vision being ‘empowerment through empathy’. The #MeToo campaign now works to ‘turn victims into survivors and survivors into thrivers’.

Burke, 44, has experienced sexual assault three times in her life (not including harassment from people on the street).

The first time, at age six, was by the son of her mother’s friend. The second time, she was playing in the street with some boys she’d grown up with when they pinned her down.

She remembers trying to fight them off. Her shirt ripped and she bumped her head before one of the boys’ mothers shouted ‘get off her’ and told Burke to be careful.

Burke was then teased for a year about this but continued to stay friends with the culprits.

Now – as accusations mount against the likes of producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey – the hashtag has been used by women from all corners of the world. In fact, it’s already been posted approximately 825,000 times on Twitter alone.

Although the campaign started with women, men are now coming forward and posting about their experiences, including celebrities like Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek.

Related Articles