The first image on each post is a warning: here is a detailed account of sexual assault, or rape, or abuse, or coercion, or any other of the myriad forms that sexual violence can take. There are dozens of posts—and more go up every day.
These often harrowing, mainly anonymous testimonials have appeared on Instagram accounts across Quebec over the past several weeks, as a groundswell of anger and frustration has erupted over a lack of justice and support for survivors of sexual violence in the province, and pushed hundreds of people into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City on July 19 to demand action.
The posts have also led to backlash, as some of Quebec’s most well-known public figures, from tattoo artists, actors, musicians, and artists, to politicians and the heads of major companies, have been accused of inappropriate behaviour.
Quebec actress Maripier Morin publicly apologized after singer-songwriter Safia Nolin said Morin bit her on the thigh and sexually harassed her in a Montreal bar. Singer Kevin Parent, Maybe Watson, a member of Quebec hip hop group Alaclair Ensemble, and Simple Plan bassist David Desrosiers all apologized after sexual misconduct accusations surfaced.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters he “unequivocally denies” allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in the 1990s, when he worked as Quebec singer Eric Lapointe’s manager. Several top executives at Montreal video game company Ubisoft have also resigned after allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic workplace.
Even though many sexual violence survivors are speaking out publicly, it remains especially difficult for survivors from marginalized communities to have their voices heard.
Tarah Paul, a project manager at West Island CALACS, an organization just west of Montreal that works to prevent sexual assault, said all sexual assault survivors struggle to be believed, but it is even harder for Black, Indigenous, and other women of colour, as well as for people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community, to be taken seriously.
“They tend to be hyper-sexualized, stereotyped, and sometimes (people) tend to question if what they say is true,” she said, adding that even if they are believed, they often don't have access to help that is inclusive or safe.
“As community organizers and organizations we should listen and be ready to adapt our services and be more open to their realities,” Paul said.
Jessica Quijano, coordinator of the Iskweu project at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, said for some sexual assault survivors, including the Indigenous women she works with who are homeless, calling the police often is not an option.
“If you’re someone who’s marginalized or living on the street, calling the police for your protection isn’t something you do.”
Montreal police have been accused of racially profiling and harassing Indigenous women, while Indigenous women in Val d’Or, 500 kilometres north of Montreal, came forward in 2015 to decry abuse at the hands of provincial police officers over many years.
Those allegations led to a provincial inquiry that concluded last year that First Nations and Inuit are subjected to “systemic discrimination” in Quebec’s public services.
“If you’re someone who’s marginalized or living on the street, calling the police for your protection isn’t something you do—especially if they’re often criminalizing you,” Quijano told VICE in an interview.
The Native Women’s Shelter is one of several organizations in Montreal that has called for the city to cut its police budget by 50 percent and reinvest that money into community programs, including ones to stop sexual violence.
Quijano said boosting access to housing and education and providing culturally appropriate trauma services would help address the problem, as would implementing the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“If we put those things into action, we would really see a drastic reduction in not only sexual assaults, but women going missing, being murdered, suicide,” Quijano said. “It’s all interlinked.”
Marlihan Lopez, coordinator at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University, said seeing survivors of sexual violence break their silence on social media right now highlights the failures of the justice system.
“It just demonstrates the fatigue and the frustration with the systems that are offered to us … (that) do not respond to the needs or the realities of survivors of sexual violence,” she told VICE News.
Lopez said many survivors still do not have adequate access to services in Quebec, while much of what is available is not tailored to and excludes Black, Indigenous or trans communities.
She said she welcomed Vancouver’s decision last year, for example, to cut funding to a rape crisis centre that would not accept trans people. “We need to see more of this,” Lopez said. “They’re receiving money and there’s no reason why there should be communities that are excluded by their services.”
She also pointed to the fact that she and other community organizers have spent years advocating for more support for sexual assault survivors in Montreal North, but they are still waiting. The neighbourhood has a large racialized and immigrant population—over two-thirds of its 84,000-plus residents in 2016 were born outside of Canada or had at least one parent who was—and one in six residents there in 2015 made less than $20,000 a year.
The government needs to invest in programs “by and for these communities,” said Lopez, and organizations that work on issues of sexual violence also need to be held accountable if marginalized people are excluded from their services.
“We’re inviting survivors to disclose, we’re inviting survivors to break (their) silence, but afterwards, what are we offering survivors in terms of resources and services?” she said.
“We need to move forward and ensure that we’re addressing this issue in a systemic manner and also holding space for survivors and offering them a path for healing.”
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