Ehjae Chan wants to create a community to help survivors of sexual violence in Saskatoon.
Chan knows first-hand how hard it can be to talk about experiencing violence, but also how healing that talk can be.
"There's something very powerful that happens when you share a story of oppression and violence," said Chan, who lives in Alberta now but used to live in Saskatoon. "When you bring it out into the light, I think that it loses a little bit of power… whether it's an actual person or the public space of the Internet."
Chan said easing the burden of the trauma can also help victims draw up the courage to seek formal help, if they choose that option.
"I know from personal experience it takes sharing your story and safe spaces slowly to finally get to a space where you might be able to tell a stranger or tell a doctor or tell a police officer."
Chan has started an Instagram account called Victims Voices YXE. It will feature resources for victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and harassment. It will also feature lived experiences of Saskatonians. Chan said names and locations will be removed to avoid legal complications and to protect victims from further harassment.
#MeToo accounts took hold in 2020
Last year, similar pages highlighting sexual misconduct — and a lack of accountability — popped up in Quebec, Manitoba and Regina, Sask. Contrary to past movements, these accounts were naming the alleged perpetrators.
The Regina Instagram page exploded with hundreds of stories from victims, but was soon closed down after moderators started receiving threats of legal action.
One Regina teacher accused of rape filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit for the publication of what he called "untrue and defamatory allegations of sexual assault arising from the Victims Voices of Regina Instagram account."
The account fueled a massive #MeToo movement that affected several industries, including musicians, tattoo artists and people working in the hospitality industry.
Chan began collecting Saskatoon stories around the end of March as stories of sexual harassment, violence and accountability pointing to a lack of accountability on the Saskatoon music and arts scene were emerging online.
Facebook post paves way for Saskatoon stories
The catalyst for this was a Saskatoon woman's social media post. Tiara Jackle detailed her experience working as a model on a Saskatoon video shoot.
She alleged several prominent Saskatoon men behaved in a predatory and sexually inappropriate manner on the shoot. Several others started to post about their own experiences of being sexually harassed or assaulted, including Chan — a videographer and photographer — who has lived through both.
Chan said it took a long time to come to terms with the fact that she had been raped, but she experienced a turning point in her healing when she read a book filled with anonymous letters written to survivors by survivors.
"I felt so known and validated by complete strangers," she said. "I also felt like I needed to say something, or do anything to help women who, like me, were struggling to be validated."
Chan hopes to bring survivors together.
"I always call it this family that should never have existed, like we're all siblings in this awful, awful exchange of trauma, but because the family exists it allows us to heal together."
Calls for system reform renewed
Morgan Price said survivors of sexual violence often turn to social media for the same reasons they go to counselling or outreach centres.
"They want someone to hear them, believe them, tell them that they're not alone tell them that it's not their fault," said Price, an educator and outreach co-ordinator with Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre. "The #MeToo movement as a whole was motivated by that need to not feel alone."
It was also sparked — and continues to be rekindled — by a desire to protect others, she said.
Price noted that last year the Regina Sexual Assault Centre (RSAC), the SSAIC and Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre put out a joint statement calling for system reforms after the Regina Instagram Page was shut down.
The centres' directors were frustrated that the movement had been silenced. Price said they aren't discounting due process, but that the high participation in social media #MeToo movements demonstrate there are people who feel the need to speak out. She said this underscores the need for alternatives to what's available through the current Canadian justice system.
"Survivors are looking for these ways to try to speak up and try to share their experiences so that other people aren't victimized by the same perpetrator," she said. "Reporting to police, and engaging in that criminal justice process, is the only legal means through which a perpetrator can be held accountable, which doesn't really leave survivors with a lot of choices."
Chan hopes her openness, the Instagram account and continuing conversations will lead to societal change. For her, the discomfort of sharing her own story is worthwhile if it lets others to reflect on their own behaviour.
She said men need to take on the burden of educating themselves about what is and isn't OK. She called on people accused of inappropriate behaviour to listen with empathy instead of defensiveness.
"It means that, in that moment, you care about the human being who is expressing that they were hurt," she said. "They just want to be validated and for someone to say, I'm so sorry, that should never have happened."
She said people who have behaved inappropriately deserve second chances, but that doesn't mean they can dismiss the past when moving forward.
"There's something very powerful in just acknowledging that a situation might have felt different for you then the other person."
To find assistance in your area, visit Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (https://sassk.ca/resources/) for a list of support services throughout the province.
In Saskatoon, SSAIC operates a 24/7 crisis line in partnership with Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service at 306-244-2224. SSAIC is hosting a virtual seminar for Saskatoon survivors seeking more information on reporting sexual violence to the police on May 26. In Regina, the Regina Sexual Assault Centre operates a crisis and information line 306-352-0434 or toll free: 1-844-952-0434.