When Victoria Ransom took to social media earlier this week to share her experience with sexual assault, her intention was to encourage those in Akwesasne who have publicly accused someone to seek healing support.
The 30-year-old woman from the Mohawk community that straddles the Ontario, Quebec, and New York state borders was sexually assaulted in Grade 11 at a prom party, and shared what happened on Facebook.
“I wanted whoever was hurting to know that healing was just as important,” said Ransom.
“I went through a lot of emotions then but it wasn’t until I found myself dealing with depression in my early 20s that I decided to take counselling.”
Ransom said she had the courage to tell her story publicly for the first time after a Twitter account was created for community members to share their stories anonymously. The account sparked dialogue across Akwesasne and among other Mohawk communities.
“I knew that there was a lot of sexual abuse but it was surprising to hear so many women come out,” she said.
“It has allowed me and others to open up and talk to other women about our trauma and create a safe space of trust and support as we continue our healing journey knowing we are not alone.”
‘Wake up call’ for Akwesasne
The account has since been deleted, but the Akwesasne Community Justice Program said it has received a number of calls for support and reports that have been made to Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service.
“It’s been a wake up call for us,” said Jenna David, a victim support worker at the Akwesasne Community Justice Program.
“It’s not just happening in other areas, it’s here. So, what can we do about it now? People are trying to figure out what we can do next.”
The program has offered victim and trauma support services for the last two years, including advocating on a victim’s behalf, safety planning, lock changes, and financial support. Community members don’t need to file a police report to receive help from David, and that’s something that was stressed in a Facebook post to community members on Monday.
Other programs throughout the community have also taken to social media to provide resources and the message that “we believe you.”
“Even if my program might not be the best fit for one person, another [program] might be. Just to get the word out there that they are not alone,” said David.
“It takes a lot of courage, and some people might not be ready for all that trauma to come back up. When we talk about trauma, we need to be in a safe space, and unloading that could be harmful to somebody if they’re not ready.”
2nd account in Kahnawake
In 2016, the Canadian Press reported a high prevalence of sexual abuse in some First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities but also noted experts find it difficult to assess the prevalence accurately as a result of conflicting evidence and being a taboo subject within communities.
The final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls’ findings, released last year, found current laws and criminal justice system responses to sexualized violence and intimate partner violence “fail to protect” Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people and is why so many don’t end up reporting to police.
It’s part of the reason why Paxton Phillips shared her story through another Twitter account created Tuesday for men and women from Kahnawake to anonymously expose sexual violence and harassment within the Mohawk community, 15 kilometres south of Montreal.
“I spoke out because I hope that my strength can be motivation for others to find theirs,” said Phillips.
“People are so quick to slut shame and tell you that you’re lying, then you fear for your safety because you wanted to speak about how your safety was compromised.”
Over five dozen stories were shared within a span of two days until the Twitter account was shut down Wednesday night. The Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers said it was aware of the account, and confirmed a number of reports have been made related to the account and its contents.
Naming accusers publicly
Since early July, similar accounts across on Instagram were created for Quebec victims of sexual violence and misconduct to tell their stories online. While similar to the #MeToo movement that gained momentum three years ago, this time many victims are identifying by name the person who assaulted them.
The anonymous platform, Phillips said, felt like the only option for people living in a small First Nations community where everyone knows each other.
“There’s been victim blaming everywhere sadly, but that just proves why this account was necessary. It shows the very true complications of charging someone with sexual assault and how people are so quick to defend rather than listen,” she said.
“I hope people take a second from the shaming and the anger and ask themselves why these women and men only felt comfortable to come forward on an anonymous platform.”
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Rhonda Kirby said all major community organizations met Thursday morning, and are working on a plan to address the issue together.
“We’re not the only community who has to deal with this. We certainly feel for those who suffered the abuse and we should support them in any way we can,” said Kirby.
“We do need to be careful because a lot of it is being done anonymously, there’s always that possibility that some are being wrongly accused but no matter what way you look at it, it is still very devastating for the community.”
She’s encouraging community members to reach out to support and resources available at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services.