LEWISBURG — When actress Alyssa Milano started using “Me Too” on social media in October, there was an avalanche of responses.
She was giving a voice to victims of sexual violence after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment and assault. Milano asked anyone who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to write “me too” as a reply to her tweet.
She also acknowledged that “Me Too” was not new.
Social justice activist and sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke, founded the movement 10 years earlier as a way to help victims of sexual violence. The explosion of comments Milano’s tweet generated took Burke by surprise.
She was in bed when friends began to notify her of the tweet, asking if it came from her.
“I was panicked,” she said during her talk Sunday evening at Bucknell University’s Weis Center for the Performing Arts. “There were hundreds of people who were using this hashtag. I thought the history of my work would be erased.”
Then, drawing a laugh from the audience in the packed auditorium, Burke, who is black, said she thought, “The white people have stolen my work.”
But after she read one woman’s online story of sexual violence, Burke realized that her work was all over the internet. In response, she posted a video from 2014 in which she talks about MeToo.
“I felt a duty to insert myself in this conversation right away,” Burke said.
She told the audience of mostly college students that she started the movement after a young girl told her at a camp in 1997 that she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend.
“I literally felt I was holding my breath the entire time,” Burke said.
Burke told the girl to talk to someone else about it. She could see the disappointment come over the girl.
“When she looked at me, I felt like I should say to her, ‘That happened to me, too.’ “
But she couldn’t.
“I was still grappling with my own stuff,” she said.
The conversation stayed with her for years. Ten years after the girl told her her secret, Burke started Just Be Inc., a nonprofit to help victims of sexual violence.
The MeToo movement was born 10 years ago, but was not well known until Milano’s tweet. Burke, now senior director of Girls for Gender Equity, a Brooklyn-based, nonprofit working to create opportunities for young women and girls to live self-determined lives, said corporate America and the media have packaged the MeToo movement as being all about white women in Hollywood.
But she told the audience that is one of the misconceptions about the movement. Another is that it is about taking down powerful men.
“The corporations say (to the accused) we won’t work with you,” Burke said. “The woman just want to be heard.”
Other misconceptions are that the movement is just about sexual harassment in the workplace or that it is just for women. It is for men, queer and transgender people, too, she said.
In a news conference earlier Sunday, Burke said people should interrogate, check the policies of their schools and workplace.
The campus group Speak Up Bucknell brought Burke to campus to speak to wrap up Sex Week, when discussions were held on issues such as healthy relationships, consent, sexual abstinence and safe sex, said graduate student Somer Dice, 22, of Southern California, a group member.
“I think it’s important, especially on this campus,” sophomore Lillie Hunt, a sophomore from Syracuse, N.Y., said of Burke’s talk.
She said fraternity and sorority members were required to attend the lecture.
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sylvester on Twitter @JoepSylvester.