Wave of Manitoba women come forward on social media about sexual assault
Expert says anti-racism protests have paved way for other injustices to be highlighted
When Chloe Giesbrecht shared the story of her sexual assault on Twitter, she felt like she was finally closing a dark chapter of her life.
"It was like posting it was hacking the eight year trauma away," she said.
In the post, Giesbrecht describes being sexually assaulted by a young man in 2012 when she was 16, and how it left her feeling like "a part of me was gone."
"My whole identity was stripped and it took years to get back," she wrote.
"I'm not staying silent anymore."
In a phenomenon resembling the #MeToo movement, Giesbrecht is one of hundreds of Manitoba women to share allegations of sexual violence, sexual assault and domestic abuse through social media in the last month.
The stories led to an Instagram account sharing dozens of anonymous stories from women, where many named the accused publicly. A Reddit thread on the topic attracted nearly 300 comments in June.
Giesbrecht said she decided to publish her story after seeing other women do the same. She said it felt like there was a network of support online.
"It was like a domino effect. It was like everyone was just getting this constant support," she said.
Writing out what she says happened to her was a way to release it, and to move past it, she said.
Natalya Jones also shared the story of her 2018 sexual assault on Twitter. She, too, said she felt empowered by seeing other women coming forward.
"The bravery is kind of contagious. When you see one woman who shares a similar story to you, you feel like your story is important and it does need to be shared."
Jones says she has a lot of fear in her life as a result of her sexual assault. Over two years later, she's still afraid of running into the man she says assaulted her and what might happen if she did.
But she doesn't have a lot of faith in the police or justice system to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, and feels like women coming forward on social media is another form of justice.
"They don't even necessarily need to go to jail but just the fact that some consequences are being paid feels good in my opinion," she said.
"It feels good to know that the victims are not the only ones who had to pay a price for what happened to them."
Both Jones and Giesbrecht said they didn't pursue criminal charges against the men they say assaulted them. Giesbrecht said she and her father did go to police, but because it happened to her at such a young age, she didn't want to be named in an investigation and didn't pursue it any further. She said she didn't hear from police after that.
"I didn't want them to do anything about it because I was so scared to ... just have the backlash of it."
Jones said she didn't want to go to police at the time of her assault because she felt that even if they laid charges, it would be a long, arduous court process that may not even result in a conviction.
"And let's say I do win, what's the most what's going to happen to him? Like a few months in jail? Like maybe some community service? I just feel like violence toward women is not taken seriously."
Instagram account shares dozens of stories anonymously
So many stories started emerging online that an Instagram account, Safe Space Winnipeg, was created to allow women to share them anonymously.
As of July 28, the account had posted more than 100 stories and had more than 2,300 followers.
Its organizer, who CBC is not naming because she expressed concerns for her safety, said she created the account to give women an opportunity to share what had happened to them without fear of attacks or abuse.
"It's just providing a safe space letting people know that they're not alone in this, and bringing to light how common this actually is," she said.
When CBC News spoke with her at the beginning of July, she said she had lost count of how many messages she had received, but said it was at least 200.
Black Lives Matter paves way
A similar movement has been happening in Quebec, with women taking to Instagram and other social media sites with public accusations of sexual assault.
Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, a PhD student in social work at the University of Ottawa who has studied the #metoo and #beenrapedneverreported movements, said she thinks the anti-racism and anti-police brutality movement that has swept North America has paved the way for other social injustices to be addressed.
Victims of sexual assault who choose to share their stories publicly do so for a number of reasons, she said, including trying to protect others, and because they want to feel validated and believed. But ultimately, it's because they want the violence to stop.
"We have to ask ourselves as a society, why are people coming forward like this and what is the message they are trying to tell us by doing this," she said.
"What I understand … is, there young people are telling us, you're not protecting us, so we're going to protect ourselves, by ourselves."
Giesbrecht, too, said she feels this movement of women coming forward is part of a larger, universal push for societal change inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It's not just women in Winnipeg you know, it's women all over," she said.
"It's crazy, 2020 has just been like one huge movement for changing the way things are."
- An earlier version of this story reported that the Instagram account Safe Space Wpg is defunct. It was later reactivated after the story was published.Jul 28, 2020 10:18 AM CT