Radio — #WeBelieveSurvivors: Challenging rape culture after the Ghomeshi case

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Erin Crickett, the public education coordinator at the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA). She devised the #IBelieveSurvivors and #WeBelieveSurvivors hashtag campaign that took off across Canada on the day of the verdict from the first trial of Jian Ghomeshi, and she talks with me about supporting survivors and challenging rape culture.

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Sexual assault and gendered violence are tragically common. Victories won by feminist organizers since at least the 1970s have done a great deal to undo the silence that once completely surrounded things like sexual assault, rape culture, and gender oppression in the mainstream. However, the biggest opening in popular consciousness in Canada in recent years for having important discussions about these issues came as a result of the high-profile media storm after at least eight women alleged that musician and radio personality Jian Ghomeshi had subjected them to violence, harassment or sexual assault.

None of the resulting conversation has been easy, however. The staunchest deniers of the existence of gender oppression and rape culture have very often proved the ongoing relevance of these phenomena with their every sexist tweet, misogynist comment, and hostile remark. Frequently, elements of rape culture combined with language misappropriated from the legal system (around things like “due process” and “presumption of innocence”) to produce narratives about the case that were blatantly dismissive of the women’s accounts of their own experiences, in ways that would happen in few, if any, other situations. For so many survivors of sexual assault from across Canada, this was like a public replaying of whatever hostility and skepticism they had faced when they chose to share their experiences of sexual assault. And for others, it was a reminder of why it is quite understandable that they have so far chosen to disclose their experience of sexual violence minimally or not at all.

All of this intensified during Ghomeshi’s first trial, which happened in March. Both existing legal processes and most media reports and public commentators reflected many harmful myths about sexual assault and about gendered power, including a disregard for what is well known about the range of ways that survivors navigate their experiences and about how trauma impacts people. And for all that the judgment was itself quite clear that a finding of “not guilty” was not at all the same as a determination that no violence had occurred, it also reproduced rape culture myths in its reasoning to a degree that surprised even many experienced observers.

SACHA provides support to adults of any gender who are survivors of sexual assault. Beyond the crucial one-on-one and collective support work that is central to that mission, the organization also does what it can to foster cultural, institutional, policy and social change that will end sexual assault.

Crickett recognized both the importance of the discussions being catalyzed by the Ghomeshi case, and also the impact it was having on survivors. She collaborated with colleagues in Toronto to combine the #IBelieveSurvivors and #WeBelieveSurvivors hashtag campaign with a number of other initiatives on that day to create a publicly visible response that, yes, might provide opportunities to critique the verdict and the system that produced it, but that was primarily focused on supporting and affirming survivors in all parts of the country through that difficult moment, and on fostering cultural change. While Cricket certainly believes that changes are necessary to how the legal system deals with sexual assault cases, one lesson she takes from the fact that more than 90 per cent of instances of sexual assault are never even reported to the police (and that some observers might also relate to the troubling role played by the police and other state institutions in perpetrating gendered violence, particularly against colonized and racialized people) is that truly addressing sexual assault requires something far beyond legal reforms. She believes we need wide-ranging and deep-reaching cultural change, moving us from a rape culture to a consent culture, as well as corresponding shifts in the policies and practices of a wide range of institutions.

Crickett talks with me about the work of SACHA, the Ghomeshi case, the #IBelieveSurvivors and #WeBelieveSurvivors social media campaign, and the kinds of broad-based social change that will be necessary to end sexual assault.

To learn more about SACHA, click here (and to access their handy reference of facts related to sexual violence, click here).

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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