Metro Morning

Breaking down language, cultural barriers to talking about sexual assault in Tamil community

A Toronto woman wants to draw upon her own experience to help break down the stigma she says still surrounds discussing sexual assault in the Tamil community.

Speaking out about sexual assault

A Toronto woman says she wants to draw upon her own experience to break down the stigma she says still surrounds talking about sexual assault in the Tamil community.

The 28-year-old woman alleges she was sexually assaulted by a Scarborough photographer as teenager when she in a photo session to commemorate Samathiya veedu, a Tamil celebration to mark a girl's coming of age, she said in a widely-shared Facebook post.

Toronto police charged Sinnarajah Sivasubramaniam with three counts of sexual assault and three counts of sexual interference last week.

CBC News spoke briefly with Sivasubramaniam by phone Sunday, but he said he did not want to speak about the allegations.

Different language

The Toronto woman told CBC News that she first started talking about the experience with a counsellor in university. While she says she's always been open with her friends, she only recently talked to her parents about what she told Toronto police several weeks ago.

That's both because of the stigma in the Tamil community around discussing sexual assault, she says — and there can also be a language barrier between children who may have different mother tongues.

Her own parents never talked to her about sexual abuse when she was younger. She says she still doesn't know the correct word for male or female genitals in her parents' native language.

Social media

But she says hopes that she can work with young women in the Toronto Tamil community to talk about those things together — and to create a counselling network to help others to find a way to share their own experiences.

Since writing about her own experience on Facebook a week ago, the complainant has heard from dozens of people commenting on her strength and thanking her for speaking out.

The post has since been shared more than 350 times. She says that it's reached numerous women who have written to her privately to share their own accounts and that it's been powerful to connect with them.