Last Sunday, The Huffington Post Canada dedicated our front page and Living page to the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported. As thousands of courageous women, men and trans folk shared their stories of rape and sexual assault publicly, many for the first time, there seemed no other way to do them justice than to let the stories speak for themselves.
Although it was the first time we had dedicated our front page in this way, we were not alone in our coverage. Every major news outlet in Canada covered #BeenRapedNeverReported, helping to amplify the voices in the hashtag that was started by former Toronto Star writerAntonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery.
Coverage spread internationally, with news organizations like Al Jazeera and the BBC picking up on the story and broadcasting the movement to their readers. People around the world began to get a small glimpse of the reality for so many survivors of rape and sexual assault -- fear, guilt, shame, terror, anger, isolation, confusion, denial. Grief. And in the powerful online community that emerged from the hashtag came support, belief, acknowledgment and relief.
A week later, public and media focus is already starting to shift. Away from the Jian Ghomeshi scandal that spurred the hashtag by Zerbisias and Montgomery and has engulfed the nation. Away from the shock of the nine accounts of alleged assault from the victims. Away from the stories of #BeenRapedNeverReported.
So what happens next? Does this story become one of the many we remember in passing at the end of the year? What do we do now?
You told us what is needed to support survivors and prevent rape and sexual assault when we asked you last week, in hundreds of thoughtful, passionate responses:
"The media needs to change what and how they report. HUGELY."
-- A respondent in Vancouver
"I think victims need to know where they can go to get help and support and be confident that they will be believed and taken seriously. This information should be everywhere: metro, bus stops, tv ads, newspapers... This will send message to both victims and potential abusers that rape and sex assaults are taken seriously in this country." -- Gillian, Edmonton
"A true culture shift: one where boys are raised to respect girls, where mothers allow girls to express themselves without reproach, where being a strong woman does not mean being a bitch, where women are not trophies, where men are allowed to express their feelings, be vulnerable. Unless we fundamentally change the world in which a drunk 16 year-old who said "no" will be believed without hesitation... She remains silent." -- Nathalie, Stratford, Ont.
"Believe them, do not question their story, do not pressure or guilt trip them to report. It is not the victim's job to put a rapist in jail, they don't need that added stress and pressure on top of the terrible things already done to them, coming forward and telling someone is difficult enough. it is the rapist's job NOT TO RAPE. Teach young men and women how to respect boundaries and speak out against violent sexual behaviours. Speak up against rape culture!!! In the work place, amongst friends, on the street, do not allow people to say/do things that perpetuate it by minimizing experiences, making jokes, slut shaming, victim blaming and allowing bad behaviours to slide by making excuses, example, "He is a good guy." Teach children early on about sex and safety in speaking up when they experience something inappropriate, they need to know there is someone they can trust and turn to, including teachers, neighbours, aunts, uncles, family friends, coaches, mentors. Put an end to shaming and blaming victims... believe someone when they tell you they have been assaulted." -- Candace, Ottawa
"You cannot stop what you cannot see or believe. You have to believe this type of horrific act can occur to anyone of any age or gender. Every person is vulnerable if they are in the wrong place, wrong time with the wrong person.
You have to believe the costs to the victim, the family and society are real, huge and long term. Every person is vulnerable.
Prevention, as with healing, takes a long-term concerted effort to deal with a tough subject. It raises uncomfortable questions for victims and society. But we need to keep asking the questions and not just because they are the news of the day." -- Jo-Anne, Freelton, Ont.
"Education at a very young age for males and females about rape, sexual abuse. It's not being done in the home, so the schools should do it. I and most women I know (and many boys by the way) have been victims and we never tell our parents or teachers. We know it's pervasive and the abusers certainly know. It's about time this terrible issue is in the open. Bravo to the women who have come forward. Now what are we going to do about it." -- Norma, Calgary
"Men are left out in the cold on information, resources, and support. It's incredibly hard to come forward as a man who's been raped; no one believes you, you're laughed at, you're traumatized but society expects you to laugh it off and not have emotions. Male victims need to be brought into the picture more, so they are more comfortable coming forward." -- Adam, Portland, Ore.
"Acknowledge the crisis is real and rampant and make reporting it less traumatic, with stronger penalties for offenders. Educating both men AND women about proper communication of expectations and boundaries so there is no doubt going in. But mostly, keep the dialogue going!" -- Lenore, Kelowna, B.C.
In the coming days, we'll share more of your feedback from our survey back with you, and please keep sharing with us. You will see on our pages continued coverage of the issues surrounding rape and sexual assault.
Because you told us: The story can't end yet. It continues for so many, and there is so much more to be done.
We're listening, and we agree. So, we'd better get to work.