To those who are well acquainted with Twitter, you know that there are often silly things trending on popular social media platform. However, recently, an extremely important hashtag began trending, as thousands of survivors of sexual assault came forward and tweeted #rapedbutneverreported.
This hashtag began surfacing in response to the recent allegations against ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, as several women have spoken publically acknowledging that that Ghomeshi engaged in non-consensual, violent sexual acts with them.
Initially, Ghomeshi wrote in a Facebook post that he had been fired from the CBC due to the broadcasting company being wary of details relating to his personal sex life being publically revealed. In that Facebook post, Ghomeshi stated that while he did like to engage in consensual, rough sex and BDSM, he would never push the boundaries or hurt anyone. He went on to claim that a “jilted” ex-girlfriend had decided to slander his name by spreading rumors and lies about him being violent with her as well as other women during intimate relations.
When the news first broke, many sided with Ghomeshi, not being able to believe that the popular radio host of Q could ever be responsible for such acts.
Many responses had people calling Ghomeshi “brave” and his firing from the CBC as unfortunate and unfair. Moreover, many of those who sided with Ghomeshi did not believe the allegations against him because there were no women who reported the alleged attacks or who were claiming outwardly to that they had experienced violent altercations with him.
Opinions began to shift as the Toronto Star reported that eight women were accusing Ghomeshi of violence and sexual abuse. One of these women was actress, Lucy DeCoutere. Other women who have spoken out knew Ghomeshi through the CBC, met him on his book tour, or at various events.
Then, a Twitter account under the handle @BigEarsTeddy was discovered. The user of the account who goes by “Sidnie Georgina” dedicated the account to speak out against Ghomeshi as she claims uses violent nonconsensual force when engaged in intimate relations with women. These Tweets regarding Ghomeshi’s abusive behaviour date as far back as April 7, 2014.
Two more women spoke about their experiences with Ghomeshi. Author Reva Seth wrote about her violent account with Ghomeshi in an article for the Huffington Post. The CBC broke a story about a New Brunswick woman who also experienced violence from Ghomeshi, claiming that he choked and beat her with a belt.
While these women bravely came out to tell their stories about Ghomeshi’s abuse, many on social media were skeptical of these claims, wondering why they did not file formal complaints to the police.
The expectation of survivors to report their assaults in order to be legitimized, is embedded into our cultural and social narrative. Going to the police and reporting a criminal act is what people expect you to do when a violation is committed. However, before we begin to make assumptions about an individual’s choice to not report to the police, we must take into account the extreme emotional, legal, metal, and societal implications that impact their decision.
The reality is, that the majority of individuals who experience sexual assault, do not report. According to statistics, of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police.
Dalya Israel, the manager for victim’s services at Vancouver’s Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) Rape Crisis Center, spoke on a CBC Vancouver podcast in regards to the reasons why many individuals who have been assaulted may not come forward about their experiences and pursue legal action.
Israel highlights that we live in a society that generally places a sense of blame and questions women who have been assaulted as to why the did not fight back, and little responsibility is place on perpetrators who commit the assaults. Because we live in that culture she says it, “leads women to believe that they will be blamed for their own assault.”
Additionally, she notes that there has been a “large repertoire across Canada with different municipalities, police departments and the RCMP, which have a proven track record that sexism exists widely in their actions as officers.” This creates a barrier of trust and between survivors and the legal system, hindering their decision to speak out against the perpetrator.
In terms of the legal system, there is a common misconception that swift action will be taken on the perpetrators and they will be sentenced immediately. In reality, Israel points out, that when women do go to the court system to press charges, there is only a 0.8 per cent conviction rate in British Columbia. This statistic is a huge disappointment for someone engaging with the legal system after a traumatic event in hopes that the perpetrator will be incarcerated.
The YMCA of Toronto also released an infographic showing how many sexual assaults there are in Canada in relation to how many assaults are reported and how many assailants walk free. The results are staggering and highlight that even when survivors choose to file formal legal reports, the court process often fails them.
— YWCA Toronto (@YWCAToronto) October 29, 2014
Israel also addresses the fact that when women do not speak out to authorities, it lessens her claim of legitimacy. “I think we give a huge amount of credibility to authorities. I think we give a huge amount of credibility to the criminal justice system and we don’t give that credibility to women,” she says.
Moreover, there are feelings of shame, guilt, fear, blame and embarrassment that are experienced after sexual assault. When someone cannot even come to terms with the violation, it is unfair to expect them to speak out against the perpetrator when they could face doubt, criticism and a lack of support from those they confide in.
The women who have spoken about Ghomeshi alleged abusive actions, have stated that knowing they were dealing with a powerful media figure was a huge factor impeding on their decision to report.
The brave decision these women took to address their experience with sexualized violence has inspired many to also do the same about their own experiences. The #beenrapedneverreported hashtag cannot be taken lightly and those who are speaking about their experiences are extremely courageous in doing so.
If you are seeking any help or support, WAVAW has 24-hour crisis line at 604-255-6344 or toll free at 1-877-392-7583 .