By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Time magazine has named the social movement aimed at raising awareness about sexual harassment and assault, epitomized by the #MeToo social media hashtag, as the most influential "person" in 2017, the publication announced on Wednesday.
"This is the fastest moving social change we've seen in decades and it began with individual acts of courage by hundreds of women - and some men, too - who came forward to tell their own stories," Time Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal told NBC News, referring to them as "the silence breakers."
The recognition comes amid a wave of public allegations of sexual misconduct that have targeted some of the most prominent men in U.S. politics, media and entertainment, leading to multiple firings and investigations.
As more people made their accusations public, other individuals also shared their own stories of assault and harassment, often with posts on social media platforms using the hashtag #MeToo.
"I could never had envisioned something that would change the world. I was trying to change my community," Tarana Burke, the hashtag's creator, told NBC. "This is just the start. It's not just a moment, it's a movement. Now the work really begins."
U.S. President Donald Trump, who was Time's person of the year in 2016, was the first runner-up this year, followed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Felsenthal said.
Other finalists included North Korean President Kim Jong Un, "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins and football player-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick, among others.
Time's annual distinction recognizes the person, group, thing or idea that it has determined had the greatest influence on events for the year.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found nearly half of U.S. women said they had been sexually assaulted.
Among the 1,747 American adults surveyed, 17 percent of men and 47 percent of women said they had been abused, according to the Nov. 29-Dec. 4 poll, which had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
The Time announcement comes one day after Representative John Conyers became the first member of Congress to step down following public allegations of misconduct and amid calls for Senator Al Franken to resign.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and former NBC News anchor Matt Lauer also have lost their jobs amid such allegations. Trump has also been accused of inappropriately touching women and faces related litigation. He has denied the allegations.
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)