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#MeToo Turns Three, Founder Launches Platform to Fight Sexual Violence

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, Oct 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The founder of the #MeToo movement marked its third anniversary on Thursday by launching an online platform to fight sexual violence, hoping to expand the reach of the campaign against harassment and assault.

The digital platform, called "'me too.' Act Too," will act like a search engine, giving users personalized options to donate, participate, or otherwise get involved in efforts to end sexual violence, said Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo hashtag.

The #MeToo movement took off three years ago, prompted by accusations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Untold numbers of women around the world took to social media to disclose sexual harassment and assault across workplaces, governments, and campuses, spawning investigations and toppling high-profile men from positions of power.

The new platform will provide easy access to the tools, resources, and opportunities people can use to join the activism, Burke told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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"Not taking for granted that everybody knows what to do, we wanted to create something that made activism and advocacy right at your fingertips," Burke said.

"The reality is we could all go out and protest every day, but if there's not a shift in culture ... we will still live in a society that is predicated on rape culture," she said.

The #MeToo movement emboldened women to recount their experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested, or raped, and in the years since it began, reports of sexual harassment diminished in the workplace.

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The proportion of women who reported being sexually coerced dropped to 16% in 2018 from 25% in 2016, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, published by the academic nonprofit Public Library of Science.

Weinstein was convicted in New York of sexual assault in March and sentenced to 23 years in prison in a case that was widely seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement.

Greater awareness has been an accomplishment in itself, said Burke.

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"Sexual violence was not a mainstream issue a few years ago," she said. "There's a slow shift happening in culture that's vitally important. This dialogue that's happening is vitally important."

Women's rights advocates have warned, however, that the coronavirus pandemic, causing economic strains and isolating women at home with abusive partners, will fuel cases of sexual violence.

The United Nations called the issue a "shadow pandemic," reports of domestic abuse in France jumped 30% within the first two weeks of its lockdown and in Colombia, domestic violence calls to a women's hotline rose nearly 130% during the early days of the country's quarantine.

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At the beginning of the pandemic in March, Burke's advocacy group, Just Be Inc., which serves young women of color, launched a toolkit for survivors of abuse.

"A light has been shined," she said. "You don't think about the child that has to be at home all of the time now with an abusive parent ... or you don't think about the wife who is seeking refuge outside of the home because it's so dangerous inside of the home."