Regina Instagram account highlighting sexual violence stories is a 'reckoning,' creator says
Survivors seek community, accountability and healing through the Instagram platform
Gina Brass wanted to support survivors of sexual violence, so she shared her own story.
"I'm hoping to give other people the courage to know that — if you're comfortable — you can tell your story, too," she said.
She submitted her story to an Instagram account called Survivors Stories Regina. The account is meant to provide a platform for Regina people who have experienced sexual violence.
In just over a week, it has received hundreds of stories from people detailing experiences with sexual violence and has more than 5,000 follows.
Brass, a Regina-based freelance photographer and makeup artist who also works in the service industry, said she had shared her story before.
Brass said she was sexually violated in a changeroom at work in a Toronto restaurant. She said she smacked the man's hand away, shouted no and went to management. She said management believed her, but that she had to keep working with the man who violated her, which was a hard pill to swallow.
"But after that incident he knew what he did was wrong."
She shared her story to show that it happened to her, too, but also to build connections and trust with other survivors in the community.
Brass said she leaves little notes of support on some of the posts to let others know she's there to listen and that what happened to them doesn't define their worth. Some have reached out to her, and some of her friends have since become comfortable making their stories public.
"It's just kind of had this ripple effect."
The creator of the Instagram page, who CBC has agreed not to name, was also sexually violated.
"As a survivor myself, I've found a lot of healing in telling my story," she said, adding sharing can lead to empathy and understanding among others.
She created the page in response to the numerous allegations of verbal sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour against mental health advocate and former Earls manager Jim Demeray, which came to light in a CBC News Investigation.
She said she drew inspiration from similar accounts across Canada. There have been #metoo conversations in Regina before, but never quite like this, she said.
"I think that it's a reckoning that's long overdue," she said. "It's Regina's time."
Anonymity can offer survivors safety
The survivors who come forward to the page are anonymous, but some of the accused are named.
Jill Arnott, executive director of the University of Regina's Women's Centre, said this setup can make victims feel safe.
"People are able to say what happened to them even if they aren't comfortable putting their own personal self out there," Arnott said. "They can still tell their story. They can contribute to the larger narrative and support each other in a way that doesn't require a victim to out themselves."
She said the climate remains unforgiving for victim's who identify themselves, despite past #metoo movements around the globe.
People call survivors liars or blame them, saying they must have done something to provoke or imply consent to the violence, or they make excuses for abusers and vouch for their character, Arnott said. Anonymity protects victims from that additional trauma she said, adding it also allows women to corroborate how pervasive violence is.
"To bolster the claims, to say no it is real. They're not lying. Me too, me too, me too."
Arnott said it's historically been "easy" for people in Regina to look away from sexual violence or suggest it doesn't happen here, but that the publication of allegations against Demeray, a prominent public figure, changed that.
"In a small community, when somebody is named, it's sort of sparked this — it reignited the flame," she said.
Arnott, Brass and the creator of the page all called on men to be louder and more public in their support of survivors, to call out predatory behaviour and to reflect on their own actions.
The moderator said some men contacted the page after they were publicly accused. Some have offered apologies or tried to be accountable. She said this is positive, but that each apology is approached with caution.
"An apology is one thing, but action is another."
Movements happening across Canada
Several similar Instagram accounts are making waves in Quebec and Manitoba this month, giving space for hundreds of anonymous survivors to come forward.
Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, a PhD student in social work at the University of Ottawa who has studied the #metoo and #beenrapedneverreported movements, said the movement happening now comes on the heels of other social movements that swept the nation in 2020.
She said attention to social injustices, like systemic racism and police brutality toward Black and Indigenous people, helped pave the way.
Souffrant said that as momentum grows, it's also important to remember that many survivors of sexual violence still remain silent, "especially people from more marginalized communities, so Indigenous communities, Black people, or people from LGBTQ communities."
Some Instagram accounts are being criticized as "cancel culture."
Souffrant said victims who come forward aren't the ones asking for people to be "cancelled." They're sharing their stories to support others, or in search of healing or accountability.
She said it's the often industry members who do the "cancelling" once people are called out. She said they're trying "to show they're taking the problem seriously," but many knew about the behaviour long before the allegations were made public.
Other critics have asked why victims don't go to the police.
Souffrant noted there is a deep mistrust of the justice system amongst survivors, because the small number of victims who do report are often let down.
"There's a huge gap because of how many people are actually affected by this and how many cases actually end up in criminal convictions," she said.
In other instances, victims report to police but the Crown doesn't pursue charges. The court process can also be retraumatizing if it does happen.
The moderator of the Survivors Stories Regina account said some have suggested survivors have something to gain.
"You do not get money or fame. You just get trauma or PTSD or anxiety and fear," she said.
Others have suggested posts could be fake or that the page is an inappropriate avenue for survivors, but Brass said that misses the point.
"I want the conversation just to stay focused and circle around believing survivors."
Moving beyond the page
The moderator said the page isn't sustainable, because of both the number of stories pouring in and the threats and messages of hate or deterrence. She said she needs to focus on her mental health, too, as she tries to ward off trolls and navigates dozens of stories of sexual violence and tries to connect directly with survivors writing in.
She's also trying to take this movement beyond Instagram. She said she's reaching out to MLAs, OH & S and city officials to see what can change, especially in specific job industries.
She called on people to hold others accountable and take action.
"Rallies, petitions, talking to your MLAs about where funding is going and how accessible these services are," she said.
Arnott said people must insist that this momentum doesn't go away.
"It's grassroots. It's individual people looking around their lives and saying I'm going to hold you to account the same way I'm going to hold myself to account," she said. "That's how we achieve change is from all of us taking our own personal responsibility and accountability."