Photo C/O Drew Simpson

CW: This article contains discussion of sexual assault

By: Drew Simpson

On Oct. 30, Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, spoke at the McIntyre Centre at an event organized by McMaster University, Mohawk College and the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton).

Inside the event centre was a well-lit stage with fall-coloured flowers matching the red Mohawk College logo. Three cream chairs sat in the centre in front of the Mohawk-patterned backdrop. A podium with a microphone stood to the left of the stage. Many sat in silence as others chatted with those next to them, adding to the layer of slight tension hanging in the air as people piled into the sold-out auditorium.

The event was not about the need to bring perpetrators to justice. Rather, it aligned more neatly with the core goals of the #MeToo movement, focusing on healing and survivor advocacy. Burke addressed the backlash against the movement and urged the audience to look past it.   

“Everything that would tell you that #MeToo is a witch-hunt, that this is a gender war. All of these terrible narratives that are out in the world are distractions from the reality that a year ago, millions and millions of people raised their hand to say that their lives were affected by sexual violence. That is no hyperbole. Millions of people raised their hand a year ago. And their hands are still up,” said Burke.

Burke also stressed the need for a restorative justice and harm-reduction approach in survivor advocacy.

“We need our hearts to pump and that doesn’t just come from food, clothes and shelter… That is the core of this work, making sure survivors have individual resources for healing and making sure that they have community. Individual healing and community, that is how we will change the world. We start with ourselves and work out,” said Burke.

Burke also introduced the idea of a “joy bank,” which she defined as the accumulation of all the joyful moments in life. She explained how she drew hope from the people who joined the march and protest proceeding Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing. That moment became part of Burke’s “joy bank.”

Burke explained that a movement has many stages and waves and she draws hope not just from the victories but the investment that people make. She encouraged the audience to challenge opposers of the movement and survivors to do whatever they need to heal not for others, but for themselves as self-care is specific to the individual.

“Sometimes self-care for me looks like a “Law and Order” marathon and a pound cake,” said Burke.  

Support is integral to a survivor’s individual healing. According to Burke, while a survivor’s needs may change, it is important that they know that support is there in the first place. Nevertheless, Burke warns that well-intentioned people can insert themselves into situations where their help is not needed.

Overall, it is clear that Burke’s main message focused on the importance on individual healing and harm reduction. According to Burke, the incarceration of the perpetrator should not always be thought of as the final answer as a restorative justice approach focused on healing needs to be taken.

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