Disclosures of sexual violence on social media


  • Social movements to denounce and combat sexual violence have multiplied in recent years, both offline and online. Social media offer a new space for victims and survivors to share their experiences of sexual violence.
  • In 2017, the #MeToo movement (#MoiAussi in French) went viral on social media and received significant media attention. Originally created in 2006 by Tarana Burke, its aim was to denounce sexual violence against Black, racialized, and disadvantaged girls and women. 
  • In Quebec, the many movements to disclose sexual violence on social media, such as #AgressionNonDénoncée and #MoiAussi, have helped to change the way sexual violence is discussed in the public sphere and to highlight the societal nature of this issue, rather than presenting it, wrongly, as an individual and isolated problem.
  • However, in sexual violence disclosure movements, such as #MeToo, Black women, racialized women, Indigenous women, and sexually and gender diverse people are underrepresented, as evidenced by less visibility of their messages in the public space.
  • There are many reasons why victims and survivors share their experiences on social media. The desire to be heard, to regain control over their story, to seek support, or to raise awareness of sexual violence are just a few examples. For many, disclosing their experiences on social media represents an alternative to the justice system.
  • Disclosures of sexual violence on social media can have a significant impact on the mental health and safety of victims and survivors, as well as on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of the general population.
  • The #MeToo movement has also had an impact on media coverage of sexual violence, on reports of sexual assault to the police, on Quebec public policy, and on the justice system.

In this text, the terms are defined as follows:  

  • Disclosure: Informal process victims and survivors undertake to talk about their experiences, whether publicly, through social media, or in their private lives. The terms “denunciation” or “reporting” generally refer to filing a complaint with the authorities1.
  • Victims and survivors: People who have experienced or continue to experience sexual violence. People who have experienced sexual violence may identify with both the terms “victim” and “survivor”, either one or the other, or with neither.

For more information on definitions of sexual violence and sexual assault, see Sexual violence: What is it?

Social media and sexual violence disclosure movements

Social movements to denounce and combat sexual violence have multiplied in recent decades. The recognition of this violence as gender-based violence and the implementation of resources to help victims and survivors are examples of the changes brought about by these feminist struggles1,2. In addition to offline mobilization efforts, Quebec feminist groups have made extensive use of social media to develop complementary initiatives, whether through the sharing of information, images, hyperlinks, or hashtags3. Social media have thus become a platform for conveying important messages, by making visible and documenting the fight against sexual violence towards women and by offering support to victims and survivors3.

The #MeToo movement (#MoiAussi in French) is an example of online mobilization rooted in the social, economic, and structural inequalities especially affecting Black women. In 2006, Tarana Burke, an African American community organizer and activist, created the MeToo initiative, which aimed to denounce sexual violence, particularly against Black, racialized, and disadvantaged girls and women. Today, Tarana Burke is currently the founder and executive director of the me too Movementorganization, which aims to support victims and survivors of sexual violence, by providing resources tailored to their needs.

In October 2017, the #MeToo hashtag went viral on social media and reignited the online movement. In its first year, the #MeToo hashtag (ou hashtag) was used more than 19 million times on X (formerly Twitter)4. A large number of people used this hashtag on social media to indicate that they had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. The #MeToo movement, which is part of a broader social movement in the fight against sexual violence, was sparked after journalistic investigations led to the media coverage of cases involving public figures accused of sexual violence, such as the Weinstein case5,6. Although most of these cases occurred in the United States, #MoiAussi has also been used in Quebec to talk about sexual violence in the public space, where several public figures have also been targeted by disclosures of sexual violence.

In Quebec, other movements launched on social media also denouncing sexual violence preceded #MoiAussi, such as:

  • #AgressionNonDénoncée in 2014 (launched by the Fédération des femmes du Québec inspired by the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag).
  • #OnVousCroit in 2015 (launched by the Quebec Coalition of Sexual Assault Help Centers).
  • #StopCultureDuViol in 2016 (launched by feminist activist and Indigenous poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine in the wake of several high-profile sex scandals and a news report on violence against Indigenous women).

In 2018, the hashtags #WhyIDidntReport, #EtMaintenant, and #AprèsMoiAussi were also used. In Quebec, another major wave of disclosures took place in July 2020. Unlike previous movements, this one was not associated with a specific hashtag and went beyond sharing accounts to explicitly naming people who had been identified, often anonymously, as perpetrators of sexual violence7.

Online movements of sexual violence disclosures occurred mainly on social media, such as X, Facebook and Instagram, but also on YouTube, Reddit or blogs8. The experiences of victims and survivors were mostly shared through texts, drawings, or videos9.

While experiences of sexual violence are often represented, wrongly, as an individual rather than a societal problem, social media offer a new space for victims and survivors to share their experiences9. It can allow them to have a sense of control over their story, to be visible, to show that they are not alone, and to raise awareness and address the issues surrounding sexual violence in the public space10–12. Social media have also helped various social movements to rapidly gain in popularity. They facilitates broad participation in sexual violence disclosure movements11. Hashtags make it easier to find related messages, spread messages, and join forces with others. They also increase visibility, attract attention, and target or make visible communities for whom access to the public space or the media was difficult or impossible11,13. The #MeToo movement in particular has precipitated and encouraged disclosures of sexual violence on social media14. For example, disclosures made on X at the beginning of the campaign led to further disclosures through shares or retweets and replies to these posts15.

Characteristics of disclosures on social media

People who make a disclosure of sexual violence

It is difficult to get a detailed portrait of individuals who disclose on social media, since disclosures are often made anonymously and published on platforms where their personal information is not public. Studies show, however, that it is mainly women who disclose their experiences of sexual violence on social media. This can be explained by the fact that most victims and survivors of sexual violence are women16–18. Some men also choose to disclose their experiences of sexual violence on these platforms, but their stories may not have been amplified in the same way by the #MeToo movement15.

Among women who disclose online, white women are overrepresented, while Black and racialized women are underrepresented and share their experiences less online7,17,19. This gap in representation is also a major criticism of the #MeToo movement7,19,20, whose original goal was to support victims and survivors from marginalized communities, particularly young Black women1. Indigenous women and sexually and gender diverse people are also largely underrepresented in the movement, even though social media are a means used by these groups to denounce the violence they experience. The lack of representation of all these groups, manifested, for example, by the lower visibility of their messages in the public space, may stem in particular from the sexist and racial prejudice, marginalization, and discrimination they are more likely to face in their daily lives (e.g., at school, at work, in public places, in the justice system)7,19,21–23. Their invisibilization in the public sphere can influence the discourse around sexual violence and sideline the issues at the root of these social movements that are essential to their understanding, such as social inequalities related to gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Conversely, an inclusive representation of all these groups within these movements can facilitate the adoption of changes tailored to the different realities experienced by victims and survivors, particularly those more likely to face barriers in accessing health and justice services19,24.

The experiences of sexual violence shared

The content shared on social media about experiences of sexual violence allows us to better understand which details of these experiences are considered more important or of public interest by victims and survivors8. It can help to better target their needs to guide the development of prevention strategies. Studies show that the type of content and level of detail of experiences of sexual violence disclosed on social media vary greatly. Some people post detailed descriptions of the event, while others choose to share limited information16. The stories include information on the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the experiences (e.g., the type of sexual violence experienced, the number of experiences, where they occurred, and the age of the victim and survivor at the time)8,25. Details about the perpetrator are also sometimes shared, such as the nature of the relationship with the person or information about their identity. In some cases, victims and survivors share several experiences, highlighting the ongoing or recurring nature of this violence in their lives15.

Victims’ and survivors’ accounts also reveal a wide range of emotions and feelings, including shame, sadness, guilt, anger, and fear16,26. Some disclosures also address the psychological consequences of sexual violence (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, self-harm)26.

Reactions to the disclosures

Online movements, such as #MeToo, have generated many reactions and, in turn, comments on social media25,27. The nature of the reactions to someone’s disclosure of sexual violence is important, as they are predictive of the consequences for their health and well-being. Negative reactions are likely to hinder their recovery and prevent them from seeking help, while positive reactions promote recovery and coping28–31.More specifically, positive reactions can help reduce barriers and shame associated with disclosing sexual violence, allowing victims and survivors to feel heard, supported, and validated (i.e., understood and recognized in their experiences)16. In general, responses and reactions containing disclosures of sexual violence are positive and supportive; only a minority are negative16,25,32,33. The most common positive reactions are those offering emotional or informational support, and those backing the movement16. Supportive reactions are expressed in a variety of ways, such as believing the story of the person who made the disclosure or being there for them33.  The most common negative reactions are those that divert attention from the story of the person who made the disclosure and that focus on one’s own emotions in reaction to the post or are promotional in nature (e.g., promoting newspaper articles on the subject). Other negative reactions may take the form of insults directed at the person who has experienced sexual violence, as well as comments aimed at discrediting them, blaming them for their experience, undermining their self-esteem, or psychologically abusing them9,12,16,32.

Reasons for disclosing on social media

In most cases, there are multiple reasons for victims and survivors of sexual violence for disclosing their experiences on social media16. Among those commonly reported are the desire to speak out, to be heard, and to regain control or power over one’s life, for example, by deciding, how, when, and where the story is shared1,14,16. Reading the stories of others who have shared their experiences is also a motivation for some individuals to share their own15,16.

Other reasons given by victims and survivors for disclosing their experiences online include:

  • Seeking support, assistance, and/or advice.
  • Showing solidarity with other victims and survivors.
  • Being believed, taken seriously, and acknowledged.
  • Documenting their experience and recovery.
  • Freeing themselves of blame or shame.
  • Supporting and helping other victims and survivors.
  • Holding the perpetrator(s) of sexual violence accountable and/or hoping that they recognize the violent nature of their actions.
  • Seeking a sense of justice.
  • Warning others about the perpetrator.
  • Raising awareness and changing perceptions and opinions of others about sexual violence.
  • Advocating against sexual violence and rape culture, at both the collective and societal levels, and raising collective awareness1,2,9,14–16.

The #MeToo movement has also highlighted the prejudice faced by victims and survivors of sexual assault in criminal courts2. Criticism of and lack of trust in the justice system supports the decision of some people to tell their stories on social media. Criticisms include perceptions that victims’ and survivors’ complaints are often dismissed, that victims and survivors are left to fend for themselves in the process, that the justice system is slow and insensitive, that the justice system staff (e.g., police officers, judges, lawyers) are not properly trained, and that perpetrators are not punished for their actions2

A lack of trust in the justice system is also a significant reason why many choose not to report the violence they have experienced to authorities. This lack of trust is particularly prevalent among Indigenous women, due to a fear of police profiling and brutality as well as systemic discrimination, and to bureaucratic red tape and cultural mistrust towards the justice system2,22. Additionally, Immigrant, racialized, Indigenous, disabled, deaf, and sexually and gender diverse women may also face obstacles in reporting and seeking justice that are influenced by different systems of oppression and various identity and community affiliations exposing them to diverse forms of discrimination22. For some people, social media therefore represent an alternative to the traditional justice system, even though it is not an equivalent.

Consequences associated with disclosures on social media

Sexual violence disclosure movements on social media have had multiple consequences for victims and survivors, for the general population, and for society as a whole, at both the political and legal level.

Consequences on the mental and physical health of victims and survivors

The consequences of disclosures of sexual violence on social media on the mental and physical health of victims and survivors are diverse. They have been reported either directly by victims and survivors who did or did not disclose, or by those working with them16,18,34.

Positive consequences:

  • Being recognized as a victim or survivor
  • Reducing the stigma associated with sexual violence
  • Reducing the sense of loneliness and helping to build a support network
  • Improved mental health or better recovery
  • Reducing feelings of shame and guilt
  • Change in identity (e.g., identifying as a resource person)
  • Improved working conditions and better support from colleagues (following a disclosure on social media of an experience of sexual violence in the workplace)
  • Sense of relief at having denounced the perpetrator

Negative consequences:

  • Personal fatigue due to public exposure and exhaustion resulting from the intensity of the #MeToo movement
  • Social rejection
  • Blame directed at the victim and survivor
  • Perception of others that the perpetrator is the main victim
  • Reliving the trauma and resurgence of unwanted emotions
  • Risk of being accused of online defamation (when the perpetrator is named)
  • Deterioration of working conditions (following a disclosure on social media of an experience of sexual violence in the workplace)

Potential risks of online disclosures for victims and survivors

Social media present certain risks to the safety and mental health of victims and survivors who share their experiences online. For example, women victims and survivors are particularly at risk of being targeted by hostile behaviour online, which can compromise their safety in cyberspace12. Online hostility stems mainly from misogyny and can manifest itself by discrediting or blaming people who disclose their experiences online (victim-blaming), by attempting to silence them, and by perpetuating myths about sexual violence1,12,18,35. People who have chosen not to post their experiences of sexual violence online have stated that they refrained from doing so due to concerns about protecting their privacy, fear of being labeled as troublemakers, and apprehension about potential repercussions and retaliation that could result from sharing a #MeToo message, particularly in their workplace18. The possibility that a disclosure of sexual violence may be considered a false allegation by others can also contribute to the reluctance of victims and survivors to share their experiences, even though false allegations are rare34.

Another risk associated with online disclosures, which has become more common since the #MeToo movement, is a defamation lawsuit by the perpetrator, especially in cases where the person is explicitly named or when there are details that allow for identification1,36. In addition to the possibility of significant financial costs, defamation lawsuits can be lengthy and traumatic for victims and survivors36. This risk may be one of the reasons given by some people for sharing their experiences anonymously1.

Consequences on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of the general population

Several surveys, polls and studies have been conducted in Canada and the United States to document the consequences stemming from sexual violence disclosure movements on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of the general population exposed to these movements37–40. Some consequences are positive, others negative1,37–39.

Positive consequences:

  • Less indifference to the issue of sexual violence
  • Greater likelihood of describing “the most distressing unwanted sexual experience” as sexual assault
  • Greater awareness and acknowledgement of sexual violence
  • Increased knowledge and better understanding of sexual violence
  • A new opportunity to speak out publicly against gender-based violence
  • Better understanding of sexual consent
  • Reduced stigma and shame associated with disclosures of sexual violence

Negative consequences:

  • Exclusion of groups that do not use social media or do not identify with the #MeToo message
  • Exclusion of individuals who differ from those who have been most vocal in the #MeToo movement, in terms of culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and sexual and gender identity
  • Lack of representation of trans people
  • Increased fear of being wrongly held responsible for sexual violence
  • Increased risk of false accusations of sexual assault on social media

Several behavioural changes have also been noted. First, the #MeToo movement is associated with a significant increase in Google searches for information on sexual assault and sexual harassment. This increase was maintained six months after the events, according to a study conducted between January 1, 2017 and July 15, 201841

Furthermore, the #MeToo movement has helped Canadians to better understand what sexual consent is, and to be more likely to get their partner’s consent before engaging in sexual activity, according to a Canadian survey conducted in 2019. Nearly half of participants also said they had changed the way they interacted with their co-workers (e.g., by paying more attention to their comments)37.  

Moreover, some activities or posts related to #MeToo may create opposition between women and men, whereas men’s participation is necessary for change11. Tarana Burke reports that the #MeToo movement only truly works when the general public understands that there are no typical portraits of perpetrators and victims, nor typical narratives or stories of violence42.

Consequences on reporting, public policy, and the justice system

The #MeToo movement has also led to an increase in reports to authorities. In October 2017, the number of reported sexual assault victims by police in Canada reached a peak. Over the 21 months preceding the #MeToo movement (January 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017), there were an average of 15.0 police-reported sexual assault victims per 100,000 people per quarter. In the period following the movement (October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017), this average rose to 18.6 per 100,000 people, representing a 24% increase in the rate of police-reported sexual assaults. In Quebec, the increase was 61%43.  This increase does not necessarily reflect a rise in the actual prevalence of sexual assault, but rather an increase in the number of reports to the police43.

Moreover, the demand for services to help victims of sexual violence has risen considerably. In Quebec, the RQCALACS (Quebec Coalition of Sexual Assault Help Centers) reported that, after the #MoiAussi hashtag went viral in October 2017, the number of help requests more than tripled between October 16 and 26, 201710.

The #MeToo movement has also influenced journalistic practices and the way in which investigations into stories involving sexual violence are conducted44,45.  Media coverage of sexual violence has become more diverse, and greater attention has been paid to the issue of false accusations and sexual violence as a societal issue. Despite the #MeToo movement, cases of sexual violence continue to be predominantly perceived and addressed as isolated incidents rather than as a systemic issue46.

For the best practices in media coverage of sexual violence, visit the Media section.

Online movements of sexual violence disclosure can also have an influence on decision-makers and public policies. In Quebec, feminist activism led notably by student communities, researchers, community organizations, and individual victims and survivors, which go hand in hand with the visibility obtained by online movements (e.g., #StopCultureDuViol in 2016), have contributed to research on sexual violence in post-secondary institutions (e.g., the ESSIMU survey), awareness campaigns, and public policies targeting sexual violence46,47. An example of this is the adoption in 2017 of the Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions3. This law aims to strengthen actions to prevent and combat sexual violence in higher education institutions, and to promote a healthy and safe living environment for the student community and staff members. It provides for the implementation of means for prevention, awareness-raising, accountability, support, and assistance for individuals48.

The #MoiAussi movement contributed to the implementation of new measures related to the justice system in Quebec. In March 2019, a committee of 21 experts, including academics, jurists, social workers, criminologists, field actors, and victims, was created by members of various political parties in response to the #MoiAussi movement. Its aim was to improve support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, both inside and outside the justice system. In the committee’s report, entitled Rebâtir la confiance (Rebuilding Trust), published in 2021, 190 recommendations were made. One of these was the creation of a court specialized in sexual violence and domestic violence within the Court of Quebec. This court, whose provisions are set out in the Act to create a court specialized in sexual violence and domestic violence, aims to rebuild the trust of victims of sexual and domestic violence in the justice system, and to offer them integrated and tailored psychosocial and legal services. The specialized court is currently a pilot project in several judicial districts and is expected to be permanently deployed throughout  Quebec by November 20262.

If you or someone you know is or has been a victim of sexual violence, visit our help resources.


Maude Lachapelle, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ
Catherine Moreau, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ


Dominique Gagné, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ

External review

Véronique Durocher, Lecturer and PhD Student in Social Communication, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Lena A. Hübner, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa 
Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, Social Worker and PhD Student in Social Work, University of Ottawa


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