It began as a Facebook conversation on Thursday between two friends in two different Canadian cities.
Former Toronto Star reporter Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette justice reporter Sue Montgomery were sharing their own stories of being sexually assaulted. The subject came up because of a story that was in the headlines in Canada.
CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired from his high-profile show ‘Q’ after his employer was informed that a number of women were coming forward with allegations that Ghomeshi had assaulted them. Police are investigating the allegations, though the CBC has declined to provide specific reasons for why it dismissed Ghomeshi.
(Editor's note: PRI distributes Q and other programs from the CBC to public radio stations throughout the US.)
In the days following his firing, a number of people leapt to Ghomeshi's defense, and a number of women who claim to be his victims also came forward. Zerbisias and Montgomery expressed frustration with the act of blaming victims of rape, in general, and the attacks on Ghomeshi's alleged victims in particular.
So they went public with their own stories of rape, using the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported.
Within 24 hours, the hashtag had gone viral.
Montgomery says the conversation is an effort to eliminate the social stigma that surrounds victims of rape and to remind them that they are not alone. She says she was sexually assaulted by a relative when she was three, and raped by a colleague when she was working as a flight attendant when she was in her 20s.
Montgomery says she did report her relative to the police years after the abuse, but an investigation never took place. She didn’t report the rape by her colleague because she feared no one would believe her and she would lose her job.
“The majority of these assaults — our perpetrators, our assailants are someone we know. ... It’s very hard [to report that kind of assault] whereas the creepy stranger in the bush — I mean, everyone wants to get that person [arrested]."
Thousands of women — and a few men — have shared their own stories using the hashtag.
The Toronto Star reports that #BeenRapedNeverReported has had a wide reach based on data collected by Ryerson University Student Affairs. Nearly 7.8 million Twitter users have seen a tweet with the hashtag since Thursday.
Montgomery says the Twitter response has been surprising, but she’s also received private messages from members of the public.
“I’m getting tons of messages privately from women saying, ‘I’m not ready to go public, but thank you because I’ve told my husband’ or ‘I’ve told a friend’ or ‘I’ve just said it out loud, and I feel so much better’.”
Talking about sexual assault is tough. Would you share something that personal online? Let us know in the comments.