'Me Too' Didn't Start With Alyssa Milano. Here's the Woman Who Created It.
Over the past few days, women around the world have rallied around the hashtag #MeToo to say that they too have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The two-word statement was made viral by Alyssa Milano, who spoke out in the wake of allegations that her long-time Charmed colleague, Rose McGowan, has been raped by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein (he denies McGowan’s claims).
But while Milano is the catalyst for #MeToo’s current Twitter moment, community organizer Tarana Burke is the original creator of the hashtag.
A career activist, Burke has been working to support and empower rape and other trauma victims for the past decade. She tells Fortune that her choice of the words “me too” was born from her own personal experience with sexual assault, which showed her that empathy is one of the “most powerful healers” for trauma victims. “There’s no other way someone can know you understand,” Burke says. “I call it empowerment through empathy.”
As an activist, Burke’s primary focus is “creating space for survivors,” she says. She aims to give victims of all kinds of traumas opportunities to talk about their experiences: “There are ways that we need to have those kinds of conversations—and not just when a celebrity gets caught.”
While rape crisis centers exist, they aren’t always the ideal solution. One example, Burke says, is a center she visited in Alabama that required victims to bring referrals and statements from the police. “Young people are not going to do that. A girl who was raped by her stepfather is not going to do that,” she says.
As for not getting the credit for her work right off the bat, Burke says she sees the oversight as a symptom of “people not doing enough due diligence.” She does not place blame on anyone in particular—though she notes that “black women are often erased” from the narrative—and says that just having this nationwide conversation is a win.
Still, she offers a reminder of the stark contrast between the media attention the harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have garnered and little-discussed allegations against R.Kelly. (Though the hip-hop artist has been sued several times for statutory rape, he has never been criminally charged.) “He’s been terrorizing black and brown girls for years,” she says. “But nobody’s paying attention.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter for and about powerful women. Subscribe.