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“me too.” movement founder shares her story, strategies for stopping a “pandemic”

me too founder

Nearly 200 YNHHS employees participated in a recent Let’s Talk workshop with “me too.” Movement founder Tarana Burke (center). The event included a panel discussion with YNHHS leaders, including Cynthia Sparer (left), senior vice president, Operations, and executive director, Women’s and Children’s Services, Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, and Gina Calder (right), vice president of Ambulatory Services, Bridgeport Hospital.

During a July 13 workshop for YNHHS employees, gender-equity activist Tarana Burke used a fitting analogy to illustrate the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and harassment.

Burke created the “me too.” movement in 2007, after founding a nonprofit organization to help sexual abuse and harassment victims. The movement became widely known last year, when actress Alyssa Milano promoted the #metoo hashtag on social media. Within 24 hours, Milano’s post generated 12 million responses from people affected by sexual abuse and harassment.

“Imagine if there were an outbreak of a communicable disease that affected 12 million people in one day,” Burke told a rapt audience. “The world would stop and we would be focused solely on a cure.”

At the Let’s Talk workshop held by YNHHS’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Burke, founder and senior director of programs at the Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, shared how her personal experience with abuse inspired her to dedicate her life to helping other victims.

“We were very pleased to be able to bring Tarana Burke and her message of strength and resiliency to Yale New Haven Health,” said Lisette Martinez, YNHHS chief diversity officer. “She sparked a much-needed conversation and engaged the audience at every turn.”

Burke offered strategies for bringing abuse and harassment to light, including ensuring that employees are familiar with their organization’s sexual harassment policies. The talk was followed by a panel discussion with Burke and YNHHS leaders and a Q and A with audience members.

Burke called sexual abuse and harassment a “pandemic” that affects everyone in some way. “Either we are victims or we know someone who is.”

When it comes to raising awareness, supporting victims and preventing future abuse, she said, “we all have a role.”