We have never met in person, but we’ve learned much about each other over the years, through the bonding space that is social media.
We are both veteran, feisty journalists who don’t shy away from controversy. We love our dogs. We question our government.
We are both over 50. We are strong.
And last week, as Canadian media erupted with shocking tales of sexual violence alleged against a cultural icon whose victims never reported it, we shared with each other via Facebook that we’ve both been raped, sexually assaulted, abused, molested, messed with.
And that we too, like countless women, never reported it.
The unnamed women who accused the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s star ratings draw Jian Ghomeshi of having punched, choked and bitten them, never took their stories to the justice system because, too often, there is no justice for sexual assault survivors.
So our anger grew.
It is estimated that more than 80 percent of women do not report their attackers because they fear humiliation or re-victimisation in the legal process. For women of colour, those concerns are heightened by the expectation of racism.
Not so much about what Ghomeshi was said to have done – we have heard those stories all too often while doing our jobs as journalists – but by the reaction of much of the public.
Why, people scoffed on the internet, screamed on social media, argued in bars, had these women not reported him to the police? Why had they waited years to come out against him? Why were they not making their names public? Could this be a conspiracy of “scorned” women and cast-off girlfriends and Ghomeshi groupies whom he had ignored?
We both knew full well why these women – initially four, now more than double that – stayed mute. As did every woman – and man – who has ever been raped, sexually assaulted, abused, molested, messed with.
We are the silent, shamed majority, each with a horrifying, humiliating I-should-have-known-better it-was-all-my-fault memory and myriad reasons why we keep it all to ourselves, not even telling our closest friends. Sometimes we keep these stories secret for a lifetime, empowering our attackers to revictimise us every time we blame ourselves for having worn the wrong clothes, or having had one too many drinks, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was also becoming clear through the heated debates on social media that even people we considered enlightened, still don’t get it. They have no clue of how common it is for women to be flashed or to have a man masturbate before her while looking her up and down late at night on a subway train, both frightening violations whose impact is often minimised.
As for rape, there seems to be a widely held misconception that an attacker is most often a creepy stranger who jumps out of bushes or dark alleys.
The reality is, Statistics Canada figures show there are more than half a million sexual assaults a year in Canada. Eighty-six percent of the victims are women, 60 percent are under 17 and most of them know their attacker.
According to the Ontario Women’s Directorate, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of women do not report their attackers because they fear humiliation or re-victimisation in the legal process. For women of colour, those concerns are heightened by the expectation of racism.
Midweek, one brave Ghomeshi accuser, actress Lucy DeCoutere, stepped out of the shadows of shame and on to the front pages.
|How #BeenRapedNeverReported was created|
So, in the midst of a social media storm which cast doubt on her, the other Ghomeshi accusers and, indeed, all women (and men) who have silently suffered through sexual assault and experienced shame because of it, we decided people needed to hear the stories behind the statistics and why so few report the crime.
That’s how the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported was created, tweeted along with our own stories of sexual assault, in 140-character bites. This was our way of silencing the silencers and denying those who would deny us our voices, our experiences, our justice. We wanted them to understand just how pervasive the crime, how numerous the victims and how loud the silence surrounding it are.
It’s true that, as writers, we are both used to living our lives out loud but we weren’t sure other survivors would speak out.
But a virtual dam of tears burst as millions around the world broke their long-held silence and shared their painful stories – some for the first time in their lives.
If anything good has come out of this sordid “Ghomessy” tale, as it has been dubbed, it is that myths surrounding the crime have been shaken.
Far too many people last week cruelly dismissed the women accusing Ghomeshi.
But we believed them. We believed Lucy. We believed because we had stood in those shadows with them. And we believe all the women around the globe who are stepping out of the shadows with us and bravely baring their souls.
Antonia Zerbisias is an award-winning Canadian journalist. She has been a reporter and TV host for the Toronto Star, the CBC, as well as the Montreal correspondent for Variety trade paper.
Sue Montgomery is a Canadian journalist who covers justice issues and courts for the Montreal Gazette.