President Donald Trump is a ‘self-admitted sexual predator’ who makes it harder for the United States to address sexual violence, says Tarana Burke, a longtime community organizer who coined the phrase “Me Too.”
“Out of his own mouth, he talked about the ways in which he assaults women at will,” Burke said. “That is how we define a predator: Somebody who does this without regard for another person's humanity.”
Burke said that despite a surge in public awareness of sexual violence and a wave of women elected to Congress last November, the Trump presidency has made it more difficult to advocate for sexual consent and respect.
“It's hard to set an example for young people, or even for people, when you don't have leadership that reflects any of those values,” she said.
On Monday, the Washington Post reported an alleged incident of sexual harassment committed by Trump during the 2016 campaign. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the allegation.
Burke made the comments to Editor-in-chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that will air on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Also in the episode, Burke explains why companies can play an important role in addressing sexual violence, backlash to #MeToo, and how she came up with the iconic phrase.
She has spent her career as a community organizer and activist, advocating especially for young women of color. In that work, Burke coined the phrase “Me Too” in 2006. When the movement took hold in 2017, she made sure it included the struggles of women outside Hollywood. That year, TIME Magazine recognized her as a “Person of the Year.”
‘Corporations have the ability to be far more courageous than the government’
Shifting from Trump to the private sector, Burke said companies have fallen short in addressing sexual violence but still have an important role to play in effecting change.
“Companies are made of people and they have to have a larger dose of humanity when addressing these kind of issues,” Burke says. “We throw around ‘safe space’ all the time, but [need to] really examine what safety looks like.”
The task aligns with business incentives, Burke says.
“At the end of the day, let's say you only care about the bottom line. That's fine, but this increases your productivity,” she says. “You'll be surprised how many more...qualified women you get into your jobs.”
Sounding an optimistic note, Burke said businesses can make quicker, more dramatic reforms than their public sector counterparts.
“Corporations have the ability to be far more courageous than the government,” she says. They can be “far more innovative, far more cutting edge.”
‘Tons of backlash’
Even as Burke expressed her hope for the business community, she acknowledged “tons of backlash” to the #MeToo movement across the country. “We deal with backlash every single day,” she says.
“It does not behoove me to have conversations with people who are just contrary, who have made up their mind that this is a bad thing, who have made up their mind that the old guard is what they want,” she says. “I don't have the time, the space, the mental energy to engage those people to convince them to be human beings.”
Burke then recounted the conversation that inspired her to come up with the phrase “Me Too.” While working as a camp counselor, in 1997, Burke met a young girl who had survived sexual assault.
“That girl shared her story with me and it was painfully familiar,” she said. “I wanted to share my story with her, or at the very least I wanted to say that this happened to me too. I just had a real inability to do that...and I really felt like I failed her in that moment. I failed to be able to be empathetic enough to just even say you're not alone,” she says.
“That propelled me to want to do better. It was just gnawing at me that we didn't have some kind of program that addressed it,” she says. In 2007, Burke founded an advocacy group called Just Be Inc. and launched the campaign “Me Too.”
“It came to me, these words that I couldn't say to this girl could be healing to other people,” she says.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.
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