CAMBRIDGE — Harvey Weinstein’s conviction this week may have brought the #MeToo movement a symbolic victory of sorts, but the world has much more to learn, according to the activist who founded the movement.
“I still see it as a way to look at how we think about, talk about, and support survivors of sexual violence,” said Tarana Burke, speaking Wednesday evening at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“What I’ve realized in the last two years is that … the world does not really understand what it looks like to survive,” Burke said. “They don’t understand what survival looks like, what it feels like, what it costs. These are people who are going to be jurors. Who are going to be jurists. Who are going to affect our lives in various ways with very little information about what it looks like to carry this thing. And I think that the empathy works better if people have more information.”
A three-time survivor of sexual assault, Burke launched “Me Too” in 2006 to spread awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault, years before it took off as a social media hashtag in the wake of allegations against Weinstein, the Hollywood producer. She is among the women named TIME’s Person of the Year in 2017.
Burke was in Cambridge to receive a leadership award from Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. The Gleitsman Award, given annually to someone whose leadership in social action has improved the quality of life in the United States and across the globe, comes with a $125,000 prize. Previous recipients include Nobel laureate and education rights activist Malala Yousafzai, US Representative John Lewis, and feminist Gloria Steinem.
Weinstein, who had been accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than 100 women, was convicted in New York on one charge each of sexual assault and rape after a grueling trial that featured testimony and cross-examination of six victims, including actor Annabella Sciorra. Nobody was celebrating the event, said Burke, who got to know many of the Hollywood players.
“I have talked to Annabella Sciorra — I’m not trying to namedrop — but I’ve talked to these people, and they’re not OK," she said. “They weren’t like popping champagne bottles and cartwheeling in the street when this verdict came out.
“What we want more than justice — and there’s data to back this up — is we want healing,” she said. “We want a pathway back to ourselves and feeling whole. Also survivors don’t think punitively. The first thought is not, ‘I want to get him or her.’ It is, ‘I want to get this thing out of me.’ “
Burke also contrasted the reactions to sexual violence and gun violence, saying communities rally around the families touched by gun violence. “What happens when a child is molested in their community? There is silence,” she said.
“People don’t connect their own safety to that situation but, more so, we don’t feel accountable. We don’t feel responsible. When there’s gun violence … we feel some personal responsibility. This is why people don’t fight around sexual violence the way they should. Because we don’t see it as a social justice issue. It’s an individual issue. But when one person loses bodily autonomy in your community, that whole community suffers.”