Source: Canadian Press/Graham Hughes

A mass movement denouncing sexual assault has rocked Quebec over the past few weeks. This has taken the form of online callouts against thousands of people. Various famous personalities, including singer Éric Lapointe, Simple Plan bassist David Desrosiers and leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Yves-François Blanchette, have been denounced, just to name a few. This new wave of accusations demonstrates once again that, under capitalism, violence against women is widespread while justice is nowhere in sight.

The accusations started on July 2 when Sabrina Comeau denounced her aggressor on her personal Instagram account. Her story encouraged many women in Quebec to tell their own stories of assault. The movement  gained traction after Safia Nolin, a popular Quebec singer-songwriter, accused actress Maripier Morin of unwanted sexual advances and of biting her thigh back in May 2018. Inspired by this and having no faith in the justice system, thousands of women have called out their abusers online.

A broken system

In Canada, only 5 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, a proportion that has remained unchanged over the past decade. In 2014, Juristat Canada found that some of the reasons for this include not wanting to deal with the police, thinking that the assault would not be considered as serious enough, and the worry that the aggressor would not be adequately punished. This is not surprising. When the institution in charge of investigating assault is known for its brutality, abuse of power, racism and sexism, how can women seeking justice expect to be treated?

The police are obviously part of the problem. Up until 2018, the Montreal Police led an awareness campaign that sought to make women “aware” of their behaviour to avoid being in circumstances where they could be assaulted. The message was loud and clear: if you are not careful, you may get yourself raped! 

This type of mentality means that if a woman dares denounce her aggressor, she will be subjected to interrogations without end. “What were you wearing?” “What time was it?” ‘Where were you?” “Were you alone?” “Were you drinking?” Every little detail will be used to blame the woman for getting assaulted. The fact that these questions even matter at all are a clear example of the pervasive sexism that exists in our judicial system.

The fight against sexual assault

Tired of the prevailing impunity for aggressors, it is completely understandable why many women have taken to social media. Throughout the month of July, Instagram accounts have been created for victims of sexual violence and misconduct to tell their stories. Facebook has also been used as a platform for victims to anonymously share their stories. The Facebook page Hyenas in Skirts (Hyénes en jupons) was used to accuse Yves-François Blanchet. The page has since been brought down and the group threatened with violence. The fact that the most recent accusations have been made on social media illustrates the total mistrust towards the police and the courts. 

Under capitalism, the institutions of the state exist to protect the economic dominance of the ruling class; to serve and protect private property. We see this in the budgetary priorities of governments throughout Canada – increasing the budget for the police while organizations that help the most vulnerable, like victims of sexual assault, are always at the bottom of the list. 

On July 19, the movement took to the street of downtown Montreal where hundreds of protesters gathered to demand action against sexual violence. A clear message at the demonstration was that, just like racism, sexism and sexual violence, are systemic. Drawing inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, women in Quebec are screaming loud and clear: enough is enough! 

To end violence against women, end capitalism

The oppression of women, like all forms of oppression, is an incredibly useful tool in the hands of the ruling class to pit worker against worker. Sowing divisions among the working class on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc. helps maintain the economic domination of a parasitical minority. Furthermore, stereotypes are used to justify low wages for particular groups of workers, which pushes overall wages down. 

It’s in the interest of the bosses and their politicians to hide cases of assault and harassment in order to protect their image, their careers, and their profits. The rich and powerful are in a position where they can get away with harassment because the state is on their side. For this reason, we cannot trust the capitalists or their governments to put an end to sexual assault and violence against women. The capitalist system offers nothing but violence and oppression.

It’s time for the labour movement to lead the fight for a new society, a socialist society in which the wealth created is democratically controlled by those who create it. A society in which workers—irrespective of gender, race, or religion—control production, and could quickly put an end to all poverty and misery. Under workers’ control, production would be driven by human need and not private greed. This means massive investment in services for victims of assault, housing, education, quality healthcare, childcare, etc.

We won’t be able to immediately put an end to all oppression and violence with historic roots that go back hundreds of years. But when different layers of the working class fight together against a common enemy—capitalism and the state that upholds it—the walls that divide us will quickly start breaking down. We are already seeing this process as revolutionary movements unfold around the world. If fighting against a common enemy is already breaking down divisions, imagine what will happen when we come together to build a new society.