Stories of sexual violence can become 'trauma porn,' #MeToo founder warns

Ellen Wulfhorst, Reuters

Posted at Jun 07 2019 07:36 AM

FILE PHOTO: Founder of "Me Too" movement Tarana Burke attends the New Year's Eve Ball test, before the official 2017 New Year Celebration, at Times Square, Manhattan, New York, US, December 30, 2017. Eduardo Munoz, Reuters

VANCOUVER, Canada - The founder of the #MeToo movement that inspired countless women to reveal stories of sexual violence said on Thursday women can be just as powerful by not sharing their experiences, which can become grist for "trauma porn."

The aftermath of revealing intimate details can hurt and damage women, activist Tarana Burke said at the world's largest conference on gender equality, Women Deliver, held this week in Vancouver.

Burke created the "Me Too" campaign more than a decade ago to help sexual assault victims in underprivileged communities in the United States.

It became an online rally cry for millions of women after accusations of assault arose in Hollywood in 2017 and victims were urged to share their experiences with the hashtag #MeToo.

"What I have watched over the last 2 years is the world trade on the labor of survivors," Burke said. "They trot us out to tell these gory stories, and nobody takes into account what that does to us.

"We should be careful that people don't turn our stories into fodder for their trauma porn."

Women have flooded social media with #MeToo experiences of being abused, groped, molested and raped, toppling high-profile men along with many others in entertainment, media, business and governments around the world.

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the target of accusations that fueled #MeToo, has been charged with rape and other sex crimes - allegations he denies.

Comedian Bill Cosby and singer R. Kelly weathered decades of sexual misconduct allegations before the #MeToo movement provoked a public reckoning.

Convicted of sexual assault, Cosby is in prison, and Kelly has pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen counts of sexual assault and abuse.

Some people may think the only way for women to tackle issues of sexual violence is to speak out publicly, but "I don't necessarily believe that," said Burke, senior director of Girls for Gender Equity in New York, which promotes girls' development.

"There's power in not telling your story," she said at the meeting of more than 8,000 delegates from around the world. "People are lying when they say they have to hear the details of your story in order to understand.

"I'm not telling anybody to be silent," she added. "It just doesn't have to be this big display."