Online Feminism Challenging Rape Culture

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The hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported took off on twitter after allegations about numerous sexual assaults committed by Jian Gomeshi emerged.

Predictably, many were quick to question the accusations against Gomeshi and were suspicious of the women’s motives. What were these women hoping to gain by coming forward? Weren’t they just attacking Gomeshi, beloved celebrity of the CBC? Importantly many asked: If these women had truly not consented to sexual activity with Gomeshi and had experienced the violence described, why then had they not come forward sooner?

I say that this is an important question but not for the same reasons that the mainstream media asks it…

Survivors who speak up are used to hearing this question. It is thrown out to undermine the truth of their stories.

Most survivors do not report their assaults. In Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual assault. Statistics for the trans community are not well documented but we know that rates of violence against trans folk are staggering. And yet, crime rates do not reflect this reality.

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#BeenRapedNeverReported is a response to the backlash that survivors face when they come forward. Antonia Zerbisias, columnist for the Toronto Star, created the hashtag last October in frustration and in solidarity with Gomeshi’s victims. Her first tweet read:

This tweet was then followed by:

In ‘Reflecting on Digital Feminism‘, Zerbisias argues that “hashtag feminism” can be powerful because it can raise awareness of issues often overlooked. In the case of #BeenRapedNeverReported, it countered victim blaming discourse and provided a forum for a conversation about rape culture.

empty chair

Digital activism has been one way to keep this conversation going. #theemptychair became a tending hashtag on twitter after the New York Magazine published an image of 35 brave women speaking up about their experiences of sexual assault by Bill Cosby. The empty chair in the photograph represents all survivors of sexual assault who are not able to come forward. Again survivors took to twitter in resistance to a rape culture which shames victims and protects abusers.

#BeenRapedNeverReported and #theemptychair are just two examples of ways people are challenging a rape culture which shames and blames survivors of sexual assault. They are effective and powerful online examples. However, these conversations shouldn’t remain online. Zerbisias writes that it is important to “…[step] away from the keypad and into the street”. This year’s Take Back the Night theme is “We Believe Survivors” and is a space for people to continue to support survivors and work towards ending victim blaming, and ultimately, sexual violence.

For more information about Take Back the Night and the event for male allies, visit SACHA’s website.

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