Last year, the #metoo hashtag went viral, thrusting a vital conversation about sexual violence into the public dialogue. Tarana Burke said, “One year ago, millions raised their hands—and they are still raised.”
Sometimes we count numbers and list of rates of sexual violence in various communities, but we must remember that behind those numbers are individuals with their own story and their own journey toward healing. The #metoo movement focuses on solidarity with survivors, healing for survivors and communities, and social change that these stories might one day stop.
Last night, I spent time with Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo Movement! Well, not only me, but hundreds of Hamiltonians who attended her conversation presented by Mohawk College in support of SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre – Hamilton and Area). When Tarana spoke, the space felt so comfortable and empowering that it felt as though I was directly in conversation with her. She emphasized that my voice and my story mattered.
When she started receiving international attention, and women started telling their stories, and communities began paying attention to the issue of sexual violence, Tarana was not overwhelmed, she breathed “a sigh of relief." For decades the problem of sexual violence was seen as separate from social justice. Her work has focused on relationships with black and brown girls from low-income communities. She spoke about how black and brown women especially are trained to live with masks, to appear as “strong black women” as encouraged by their families and by society.
She added, “But we (black women) are not impervious to pain.” In her experience, because of the gendered nature of the problem, communities got away with saying, “We don’t care.” She compared it with the attention gun violence receives, but she adds, “If we say that your life matters, then your whole life matters.” Finally, women were hearing the wider society say, “Your voice matters. You are not alone. This was not your fault. You have the power to create change now.”
Tarana spoke to and about women who have survived experiences of sexual violence, telling them “Everyone doesn’t deserve your story.” For those who offer support to and seek to be in solidarity with survivors, her first piece of advice is to ask the individual what they need, and to continue asking as their needs change. In order to be supportive, examine your motives for doing so and ask yourself if you are the right person. Restrain yourself from engaging with a posture of pity and from making assumptions about who they are, what they experience, or how they feel. Know when to raise your voice and when to make space for voices that are marginalized to come forward (black, brown, youth, disabled).
And she emphasized the need to look first within your own community for people in need of support, healing, and solidarity. Tarana said that healing is about and for the individual, not about or for you. “Sometimes people don’t need to hear me too.” The journey of healing is for the person, the woman, child, or man that survived abuse, to become whole again.
Though she did not speak about her Christian faith last night, Tarana recently told Sojourners, “I’m the kind of Christian that recognizes who Jesus was — and Jesus was the first activist that I knew, and the first organizer that I knew, and the first example of how to be in service to people.” In a recent blog post “She Could Not Go Unnoticed,” Jolene DeHeer wrote about Jesus noticing the woman suffering from hemorrhages and healing her. The good news for us, for survivors, is how “Jesus notices our struggle and walks beside us each step of the way.”
Our story matters to Jesus and to the Body of Christ in the world. Safe Church Ministry seeks to walk in the way of Jesus, noticing where harm has occurred and seeking to bring healing, and equipping people to serve others by raising awareness of abuse and preventing further harm from occurring.
This does not happen overnight, nor does it happen in a single tweet. Rather, the movement towards God’s kingdom takes time and takes specific focus. Tarana has been in the world of movement building and advocacy work since she was fourteen years old. She knows the persistence, community, and courage it takes to bring awareness and healthy response to the community problem of sexual violence.
The evening raised over $12,000 for the work of SACHA, which currently has a 7-month waiting list for survivors to meet with counsellors. These funds are desperately needed as sexual assault centres around the world are supporting survivors who are continuing to say #metoo.
May our congregations be places that notice the importance of an individual story, brings healing for survivors, and supports movement toward God’s kingdom where all may live in safety.