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Equity & Justice

IL + #MeToo: On Bringing Diverse Voices To The Mix

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, on the floor of the Illinois Senate in 2017.

This month marks a year since the Me Too movement went viral as a hashtag on social media (after having first been started in 2006 by Tarana Burke.) This week, we hear from several women in Illinois whose work in government has been affected. 

Today we hear from State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, a Democrat from Olympia Fields, which is in the Chicago area. Hutchinson is a member of the Senate Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention. She's also the sponsor of measures meant to better the lives of survivors of human trafficking, including one signed into law earlier this year that allows survivors of human trafficking to appeal to have their criminal records sealed.

Hutchinson has been open in talking about her own experiences with sexual harassment in the statehouse - including what she faced during her work as a lobbyist. In this interview she tells us about the intersection of race and sexual harassment and violence: 

Interview Highlights

On whether it makes sense to talk about human trafficking survivors within the #MeToo movement

Absolutely. There are so many instances where people think that human trafficking just an eastern European problem, like it's the "mail order bride." And they don't realize how pervasive it is in the United States across major cities and rural areas. We also very rarely see a face that is a woman of color, and the statistics on that are heartbreaking. There are a number of things as it relates to trauma and African American women and other women of color where there is a palpable feeling that our pain and our trauma is not heard. It's not talked about. We're not allowed to discuss it. And so I get involved in these kinds of movements specifically to point out those things.

On how far the movement has come

On one hand, I think a lot of people are talking about it. On the female side of the spectrum, we're all talking about. We're talking about how it's so out in the open and pervasive and people are sharing stories now that, in some cases, they hadn't thought about in years.

I think one of the things that was striking about when it did first start, when it first started bubbling up, especially in the capitol, there were so many women that I've talked to who are like, 'I had forgotten all about that.' Because you realize how long you just smile, push it away and keep it moving when you're trying to work. 

And then on the other side, whenever there is a movement or a social change that's on the brink of happening, there is also the commensurate backlash. So you also have the people who think everything is fine the way it is right now and instinctively and reflectively act against [the movement]. I think we're seeing that now with the jokes about the hashtag "#HimToo." And our current president talking about how it's a dangerous time for men right now. 

So I think we're living in this era where it's pervasive, and we're talking about it all over the place and it is moving folks to do real change, but at the same time we have to make sure that it's not just a headline, it's not just a hashtag. That it's not just a flash in the pan moment that won't last beyond when we get to be interviewed about it on the radio.

There's a lot of work to be done. But in this movement, we're talking about women's empowerment and knowing our place and speaking up for our joys, our struggles, our pain, all of those things that make us all human beings, all real flesh and blood, human beings in our totality. We all need to tell these stories. 

Interview excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

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