Stories of sexual assault: bravery inspires bravery

Jian Ghomeshi’s survivors are creating space for other accounts of sexual violence to be heard

Since October 26, news that CBC fired Jian Ghomeshi, a well-known (and loved) radio host has saturated headlines and conversations across Canada. Ghomeshi himself broke the story, speaking out on Facebook to try and clear his name, outing that he had been accused of sexual harassment by a jilted ex-girlfriend. But during the days and weeks that followed, nine women shared eerily similar stories of sexual violence and trauma that Ghomeshi had committed against them.

And then about a week later, two Liberal MPs were suspended for harassment allegations within the party caucus on Parliament Hill.

It has been a shocking few weeks for Canadians.

Jian Ghomeshi, former CBC radio host Photo (Flickr CC) by Broadbent Institute
Jian Ghomeshi,
former CBC radio host
Photo (Flickr CC)
by Broadbent Institute

According to YWCA Canada, there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada yearly. And for every 1,000 assaults, only 33 are reported. Charges occur in less than half of those cases, and the conviction rate only gets smaller from there.

This is terrifying reality. And it begs the question: must truth have to wait for the extreme before things are made right?

In most cases of sexual harassment, victims feel a sense of guilt and shame; they are hesitant to report their assault because of fear. Not necessarily fear of the offender or of a repeated offense, but fear they would be blamed or not believed.

For those who spoke up about their experience with Ghomeshi — as in all cases of sexual violence — it was nothing short of brave. Sharing a story of rape or sexual assault means reliving those moments. It means putting yourself on the line. It means starting a battle when you don’t know the outcome.

But it also means giving confidence to those who have never come forward. Only a few days after Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC, reporters, Atonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery decided to open up about their own pasts with sexual harassment on Twitter, using the hashtag #rapedbutnotreported. To their surprise, the hashtag went viral. Stories and support began pouring in; a movement was created.

Bravery is contagious. When someone takes that first step into the unknown, it creates space for other stories to be heard.

Jean Paul Bedard is a survivor and advocate for sexual harassment. In response to the Twitter stories he writes, “If we really want to live in a society free of sexual violence, we need to create an environment in which survivors of sexual assault feel empowered, liberated, supported, and encouraged to let go of feelings of shame that are not of their volition.”

Last week, Ghomeshi was officially charged with four cases of sexual assault and one count of choking. Lucy Decoutere, one of his alleged victims, articulates the situation well: “It has been an overwhelming and painful time for many people, including myself, but also very inspiring. I hope that victims’ voices continue to be heard and that this is the start of a change that is so desperately needed.”

One voice has power. It pulls dark secrets out from the closet. It inspires courage and creates awareness. It brings forth light.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Elisa Paolini.