After Ghomeshi allegations, #beenrapedneverreported sends important message
Published Tuesday, November 4, 2014 4:28PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 4, 2014 7:53PM EST
Since the assault allegations against Jian Ghomeshi broke over a week ago, nine women have come forward claiming the former CBC radio host sexually or physically assaulted them.
Three have filed complaints with police.
The case, however, has also led to countless conversations about consent, what constitutes sexual assault and how to stop it.
Those often difficult discussions have started a movement to encourage women and men to speak openly about how pervasive sexual assault is.
Two Canadian journalists have been at the forefront of that movement, by leading a tsunami of stories from victims coming forward -- many for the first time.
Like many Canadians, Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery found herself transfixed by the Ghomeshi story last week.
“I stayed up most of the night basically watching his career melt down online,” she said.
But as a justice reporter, she also became disturbed by some of the comments she saw about his alleged victims who were reluctant to identify themselves.
“I was getting increasingly angry about all these people saying, ‘Why don't they put their names out there? Why don’t they go to police?’ I knew why they were doing that,” she said.
Montgomery wasn't alone. Reporter Antonia Zerbisias felt the same way, and on her last day of work with the Toronto Star, began a movement to explain it.
The two Facebook friends had never met in person, but decided to create a Twitter hashtag for women who'd been sexually assaulted to come forward – beginning with themselves.
He was senior flight attendant. I was summer student flight attendant. Learned later there had been many victims. #BeenRapedNeverReported— suemontgomery (@MontgomerySue) October 31, 2014
He was my grandfather. I was 3-9 yo. Cops wanted to know why I waited so long to report it. #BeenRapedNeverReported— suemontgomery (@MontgomerySue) October 31, 2014
It was 1969 when, if you found you were the only girl in the rec room and no parents were home, it was your fault. #BeenRapedNeverReported— Antonia Zerbisias (@AntoniaZ) October 30, 2014
1970: My friend's friend from out of town "forgot his wallet" in his hotel room, it will only take a minute. #BeenRapedNeverReported— Antonia Zerbisias (@AntoniaZ) October 30, 2014
1974: A half-empty 747 to London. Traveling alone. Fell asleep in my seat in the back. Thank Dog for the stewardess. #BeenRapedNeverReported— Antonia Zerbisias (@AntoniaZ) October 30, 2014
“I just shot off a message to her on Facebook saying why don't we start a list of all the women who've been raped and didn't report it? I said, ‘I'll start, I'll put my name on first,” said Montgomery.“And then she put her story out there, I put my story, and it just took off.”
Overnight, #beenrapedneverreported exploded online.
“Women in India, women in Saudi Arabia – we wrote a piece on the weekend for Al Jazeera,” said Montgomery.
This response came despite the fact that Montgomery knows firsthand how hard it is to come forward, especially because often the victims know and trust their aggressors.
“Then you have to admit that they would treat you, hurt you in such a profound lasting way is a really hard thing to do,” she said.
Posting the story publicly wasn’t easy, said Montgomery.
“I was scared. I was shaking,” she said. “My heart was pounding as I did it because you know how nasty the Internet is. I've been really pleasantly surprised. There have been no trolls at least attacking me, and I don't believe other women are getting that either.”
At the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, they say there have been improvements in the courts and in policing allowing victims to feel the right to press charges, but they say we still need a societal change in how we view sexual assault.
“We only do this with sexual assault, right. She has to find a way to really prove that she was victim,” said Debbie Trent, director of the centre.
At Morneau Shepell, Canada's largest employee assistance program, offering services to 60 per cent of Canadian companies, vice-president Barb Veder said employers and employees alike are closely watching the story too.
The hashtag Zerbisias and Montgomery created has generated requests for interviews from media around the world. They say it's also opening up a conversation we all need to have.
“I think we really have to start talking to our kids about this stuff,” said Montgomery. “I don’t know what kind of screwed up messages they're getting in terms of what constitutes consent or a healthy sexual relationship.”
While they know the stories will not put an end to sexual assault, they hope the stories told in 140 characters will let others know it’s okay to come forward.
“This is what concerns me. The women that are coming out, but what happens now? Because that’s a huge step to say it out loud, but then there's a lot of work after that. I just hope they get the support and the help they need,” said Montgomery, adding that it’s been an education for a lot of men as well.
“And we have to do something and men have to be part of the solution. We can't do anything without their help and cooperation and support. I think in many ways men are victims of this too, because they’re getting mixed messages of how to behave,” she said.
“I just hope people realize how pervasive it is. It's an epidemic.”
Read all the #beenrapedneverreported tweets