Activist Tarana Burke spoke up Thursday to defend the Me Too movement she created after a jury sided largely with actor Johnny Depp in his defamation suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Some commenters on social media reacted to the verdict by saying that it had sounded the death knell for the movement, sparked by a viral hashtag in 2017 when women in Hollywood began accusing producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse. Burke had been working to support sexual assault survivors since 2005, using the phrase “me too” to emphasize the pervasive nature of intimate partner violence.
“#MeToo is dead. Helluva job @ACLU,” Meghan McCain said Wednesday in a now-deleted tweet.
“The ‘me too’ movement isn’t dead, this system is dead,” Burke wrote in a statement. “This is the same legal system that y’all have been relying on for justice and accountability for decades to no avail.”
A jury of five male and two female Virginians unanimously decided that Heard had defamed her ex-husband with the publication of a 2018 editorial stating she had been abused by Depp during their rocky relationship, although the piece did not explicitly name him. The jurors said Heard acted with “actual malice,” meaning that they believed she knew what she was writing was false.
The panel wanted Heard to pay Depp a total of $15 million in damages, but Judge Penney Azcarate lowered the amount slightly to $10.35 million in accordance with state laws on financial penalties.
In the wake of the verdict, some legal experts have said U.S. courts that rely on juries of regular people are not set up to fairly weigh questions about intimate partner violence, given how they can be swayed by misconceptions and emotion.
Burke continued her message:
“When you get the verdict you want, ‘the movement works’ ― when you don’t, it’s dead. When Weinstein went to jail it was, ‘me too is winning!’ When Cosby came home it was, ‘What a blow, me too is losing!’ In the meantime ― millions of people who have never been able to utter the words ‘it happened to me’ have released the shame that wasn’t theirs to carry in the first place, we have built the country’s first political agenda created solely by Survivors, and for the first time since Anita Hill took the stand three decades ago we’ve had a sustained national dialogue about, not just sexual harassment, but the spectrum of sexual violence in this country. That’s in addition to various laws and policies passed, etc. This movement is very much ALIVE.
You all want to play ping pong and have your way with the hashtag because it doesn’t mean anything to you so you try to kill it every few months. But it means something to millions and millions of folks. It means freedom. It means community. It means safety. It means power. You can’t kill us. We are beyond the hashtag. We are a movement.”
Many advocates for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault also worried that the ferocity with which Depp’s fans discussed Heard online ― combined with the highly publicized nature of the trial ― would discourage other women from coming forward with their stories. More than six weeks of proceedings were streamed live online. While the jury was told not to read about the case, they were also not sequestered.