Mary-Ann Davis was a child when the sexual abuse started.
For decades, she told no one – tangled up in manipulation so powerful that, decades later, she still couldn’t find the words to describe the pain she suffered.
“People don’t realize how big this is because when the act is actually going on, there’s not just the question of physical violence, but there’s an enormous amount of manipulation,” she said.
“It takes many, many years to get over the manipulation. Sometimes you never get over it.”
The issue of reporting sexual violence was thrust to the forefront this week in media reports and social discussions surrounding nine women who came forward and accused former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi of sexual harassment or sexual violence.
In a statement released on his own Facebook page, Ghomeshi denied the allegations.
Initially, none of the women who spoke up in media reports filed a report with police. Many cited fear of reprisals or that they wouldn’t be believed as the reason for their silence. On Friday police in Toronto said two women had come forward with complaints.
Davis had the same feelings during her abuse as a child, and is one of many now building an online movement encouraging those who suffered sexual violence to tell their stories, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
On Thursday, the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag emerged on Twitter. It had been used nearly 20,000 times in the 24 hours following.
Davis added her story this morning.
“I found it’s a very empowering, beautiful experience to see so many women come out and say that they had been raped and they never reported it,” she said.
“It’s just a beautiful movement that’s come out of something that’s very dreary and very upsetting.”
In 2013, the Montreal police investigated 1,181 reports of sexual assault. Most experts believe that it’s only a small fraction of the abuse committed.
There are very powerful reasons why victims are reluctant to report said Jennifer Drummond of Concordia University’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre.
“It can be terrifying to come out and report that you’ve been sexually assaulted because people may not believe you, people will blame you,” she said, adding the daunting nature of the legal system and shame the victims feel are also factors.
“I think they also fear judgment, stigma. There are a lot of barriers.”
Having the discussion thrust into the social media spotlight cuts both ways for victims, she said. For some, it can be empowering. For others, it can be a trigger that can be upsetting.
Some survivors do find comfort in coming forward and sharing their experience to friends or therapists or family members.
She said the discussion on Twitter and the support shown to those who have tweeted their stories can also go a long way in lifting the stigma attached to victims of assault.
“It breaks isolation. Once other survivors see that people are speaking out, it can help them come forward as well and feel that people have their back and stand in solidarity.”