What started as a small side project has rapidly grown to a powerful mechanism exposing horrific sexual assaults and predator behaviour in B.C.’s capital city.
“We didn’t anticipate the page being this big. … It’s now taking over our days,” says the creator of the Instagram page.
An anonymous Instagram account is exposing alleged sexual predators on Vancouver Island and is providing a safe space for victims to come forward.
The page creators, who remain anonymous for protection, started posting stories of sexual assault five years ago after a conversation between friends.
“One of my friends had told us about an incident where she was intoxicated and sexually assaulted by someone,” she says. “Sadly, the person that sexually assaulted her sexually assaulted me earlier.”
She didn’t report it or tell anyone and believes if she did, she could have prevented it from happening to her friend. That is how the Survivor Stories Project (SSP) started with the hope of alerting other women and helping just one person.
“It became apparent that nobody knows where to go, what to do, and you only really think about it once you’ve been sexually assaulted,” she says.
In recent weeks, the page has exposed rich, well-established and powerful men, and displayed their alleged actions for everyone to see. The posts have rippled through the community and resulted in the alleged predators losing their jobs and even some businesses closing because of their alleged actions.
“Knowing how widespread it truly is and how much it has impacted these women’s lives... we typically have women coming forward that have been holding onto this for several years and realizing they’ve held onto this for so long and how much it has impacted their everyday lives.”
From tattoo artists, to the serving industry to luxury real estate agents, the page allows individuals to post anonymously about what happened to them.
“Originally, we thought we would probably get about five survivor stories a week,” she says. “At the moment, we are probably getting a dozen a day.”
The team behind the social media account spends extensive amounts of time going over evidence and asking specific questions to each person who reports to them. They also perform background checks on both the individual and the alleged accused.
“People do assume we post everything that comes through, but we actually take great lengths to ensure that what we are posting is actually in the interest of public disclosure. It may be someone that works directly with the public or who has had multiple other accounts of assault as well,” she says.
The page administrators are in constant contact, with each one spending 40 to 50 hours a week working behind the scenes. They have not faced any legal backlash.
“We have been threatened by people that they will send through their lawyers, legal action,” she tells Glacier Media. “But the interesting thing about defamation is in order for it to exist it has to actually be false. Therefore, we have not received any civil litigation.”
According to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and only five to 10 per cent report it to police.
Carissa Ropponen, a manager at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, says there is a lot of stigma to reporting sexualized violence.
“There’s a lot of fear about not being believed, being blamed,” explains Ropponen. “Historically, the criminal justice system hasn’t always treated survivors in the best ways and often times the court process doesn’t always give survivors the outcome they hoped for.”
She says that out of every 100 police reports made in Canada, only 21 will make it to court and only 12 of them will result in charges.
“Sexual assault is a traumatizing experience and to have to tell your story and your experience to a police officer can be re-traumatizing, but if the criminal justice process is something that you want to do, we are here to support you to do that,” adds Ropponen.
“For some survivors, it is a really important part of their healing journey and... survivors deserve to have access to justice.”
Victoria-based therapist Ginger Henderson is providing counselling to a number of the women who have reported their stories to SSP.
“People are going, 'OK, this really was significant, this really was assault, this really was a traumatic experience,'” says Henderson. “What’s happening now is people are starting to feel re-traumatized because they’ve come forward but on the other hand there is a bit of relief because they’re not alone.”
Henderson says sexual assault trauma is different for each person.
“PTSD is ramped in a lot of these survivors, but they don’t even realize what that means or what to look for,” she says.
The posts have brought a considerable amount of attention and conversation about the difficulty of reporting or even talking about sexualized violence.
“It’s manifested here in Victoria in the past few months and I think this is a really important conversation for us to have as a community,” says Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria.
Helps says it’s important to support the women and also support organizations such as the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre.
“The page is a necessary thing. If it weren’t necessary, it wouldn’t have happened. It is a way for women to speak up who couldn’t speak up otherwise and what we need is more ways for women to speak up and more people to listen to them,” she says.
Change is already happening, according to Henderson.
“It’s here in our community and I think people aren’t going to stand for that anymore,” she says. “We are having this protective bubble we want to put around our women, we want to teach men and teach people what to do and how to talk about these kinds of things.”
She encourages parents to have discussions with young boys and girls about empathy and consent.
“Talking about the consent of someone else's body and how do we empathize with how someone else feels and how our behaviour is going to make someone else feel,” says Henderson.
On the SPP, educational information and supports are also shared to help inform people who have experienced sexualized violence.
“Every survivor's healing journey is their own journey and we are not the people to tell them what to do, they’re the ones that can tell us what they need and what resources they need going forward,” she says.“I truly think that part of our desire going forward is to prevent this from happening again.”
The creators of SSP say some women do follow up with police, but some feel justice just by sharing their story so many years later.
“There is something much more powerful happening in the women's lives. …. They’re being changed just by being able to share their story and have so many complete strangers say to them, ‘I believe you, I support you, I am here for you,’” she says.
“I think that is pretty life-changing for a survivor, whether they receive justice or not.”
If you’ve experienced sexualized violence, you can report it at any time to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre by calling 250-383-3232 or online at VSAC.ca. You can also contact Victoria Police online at VicPD.CA/webelieve you.