An Instagram account that brought dozens of horrifying stories of sexual harassment and assault in Canada’s tattoo and piercing industry has gone dark.
Over a week in July, @Victims_voices_canada shared more than 80 first-person accounts, all anonymous, detailing allegations ranging from inappropriate comments and verbal harassment to touching, sexual assault, and assault of minors in the tattoo industry. One Montreal shop co-owner was the subject of 17 different accusations.
Several of the tattoo shops named in the allegations were quick to respond: Carne Tattoo and Painted Lotus Studios in Victoria, B.C. fired their artists accused of sexual assault, Vancouver’s Grapevine Tattoo cancelled a guest artist, and another Vancouver shop, Adrenaline, is investigating allegations regarding one of its artists. One Calgary-based artist accused of at least four cases of sexual harassment and assault deleted his tattoo portfolio and issued a public apology that included an “indefinite break” from tattooing.
Read more: The Tattoo Industry Is Facing ‘A Reckoning’
At the page’s height, posts were shared to an audience of 24,300 followers.
But then, on July 11, just eight days after the account was created, allegations on the account started to disappear. Several sister accounts that popped up in cities and provinces across Canada also started removing names from allegations.
“We are facing escalating threats to our safety and women are being threatened by their abusers and by their local tattoo artists,” read a July 11 statement on the main account’s Instagram story.
The next day, the account itself went dark, as did some of the sister accounts. @Survivor_voices_bc and @Survivors_voices_novascotia shut down after posting that they and survivors received a high volume of threats. @Survivorsanon took a different route, posting that they would be extremely selective in posting the names of those accused due to a lack of funds to fight a defamation lawsuit.
@Victims_voices_canada and its sister pages declined requests for an interview out of their desire to remain anonymous.
Speaking with Daily Hive, the individual who created @Victims_voices_canada stated only that they are a tattoo artist and sexual assault survivor who has worked in the industry for over 20 years.
To Mandi Gray, a PhD candidate at York University studying sexualized violence and civil suits, a sudden disappearance of highly publicized accounts and allegations because of defamation threats is unsurprising.
“It’s very easy to launch a defamation suit,” said Gray. “It’s a really good tool of intimidation because lawyers are incredibly expensive, very time-consuming, and it instills fear not just in the person who posted it, but anyone else who’s been thinking of coming forward.”
Gray, who produced a documentary detailing her experience seeking justice after reporting sexual assault at York University in 2015, is currently fighting a defamation lawsuit herself.
Due to the high personal and financial risks for those threatened with libel suits—which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend even for those who win—these threats are often enough to silence individuals to the point where they are too afraid to even acknowledge they received them.
“Technology has created a new platform for justice-seeking, but it’s also created new opportunities for the use of law to threaten and shut down that speech,” said Gray, who noted many of the people she interviewed for her research didn’t realize they might get sued for defamation.
“I don’t think this should push us into a fear of speaking at all; I think that we just need to regroup and become more strategic about how we do it.”
In Canada, 636,000 sexual assaults occur every year—nearly half committed against women aged 15 to 24, according to Statistics Canada. However, only an estimated 5 per cent report to the police, says StatsCan. There are many factors in this—fear, lack of resources, misinformation—but in the tattoo and piercing industry, Montreal tattoo artist Amanda Grima said privilege and power dynamics play a big role.
“The tattoo industry has really harboured a lot of predators for a long time,” she said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to have people talk about this.”
During her eight years as a tattoo artist, Grima said she had experienced pervasive sexual harassment, bullying, and assault, which caused her to leave jobs at more than half a dozen shops in Toronto, Montreal, and France.
While apprenticing in France, Grima had no money, an expired visa, and recently separated from her partner when her boss allegedly sexually assaulted her. Grima brought her case to the French court system.
She fought for six years—the last two defending herself against charges of making a false allegation after her former boss was found not guilty due to a lack of evidence. During that time, she was fired from the tattoo shop, alienated by all but one of her former coworkers, and told by them to commit suicide. In the final case, Grima won, escaping potentially five years in jail or a $100,000 fine.
“A lot of the owners in shops that I’ve worked in have been really, really horrible—from the first shop I worked at to the last one,” said Grima, who now works privately at her own studio. “I don’t think my case is that exceptional; I think that it’s almost normalized.”
Canada is not the first country to face a tattoo industry reckoning— in 2018, Jezebel reported that hundreds of American women accused tattoo artists of sexual misconduct, and earlier this month a report from VICE detailed efforts by groups in the U.K. to combat sexual assault and racism within the industry.
These smaller, industry-based reckonings are ripple effects of the wider #MeToo movement, according to Farrah Khan, who has been an educator on gender-based violence for 20 years.
“This is a pandemic in itself,” said Khan, manager of Consent Comes First at Ryerson University. “There’s so much shame, blame, and fear that survivors carry within them around sexual violence, but it’s powerful to say your story out loud.”
Although @Victims_voices_Canada has been deleted, its impact is still playing out. Dozens of sister accounts continue to share anonymous stories, most without the names of those accused, stating they want to provide a safe space for survivors to find validation and relief.
On July 19, Grima gathered with protesters at Montreal’s Parc La Fontaine to demonstrate against sexual harassment and assault. Brought together by the online stories, survivors shared personal accounts to a crowd of hundreds under the hot afternoon sun.
“Anonymous tools (are) so useful, and it did have power and impact,” Grima said. “It brings about some change in mentality.”
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