Graphic novel puts spotlight on violence against immigrant women

Graphic novel puts spotlight on violence against immigrant women

A group of immigrant women are using colourful cartoons to tell dark stories about gang rape, marital rape and workplace sexual harassment. 

Michelle Tomlinson, who moved to Canada in March 2016 after facing persecution for her sexuality in her home of Jamaica, helped write the 40-page graphic novel Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women's Resilience.

"One of the reasons we had said that we were going to use art is that it will appeal to people easily," she said.

"It grabs your attention...People always gravitate toward that. It's not just a kid thing." 

The booklet, which launched Thursday, features four fictional stories written collaboratively by newcomer women who share their experiences of violence and abuse. The stories originated from discussion groups at workshops held across Ontario. 

'We need to start talking about it'

Tomlinson said she hopes the novel will encourage victims of sexual assault to seek help.

"One of the main things was to say that you're not alone," she noted.

The free novel comes in 11 languages and thousands of copies are being distributed across the province at universities, colleges and places of worship. The idea came from a number of immigrant organizations.

Coco Guzman, who illustrated Telling Our Stories and facilitated the workshops, said the process of sharing stories brought the women together. 

"There is a lot of pain, but there is also a lot of solidarity and a lot of laughter. And I think that also comes through those cartoons," Guzman said.

"We need to start talking about it." 

Immigrant women face added barriers to services after an incident of assault or rape, according Krittika Ghosh, senior co-ordinator of the violence against women program at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), one of the groups behind the project.

These women are often isolated and sometimes lack family and community support, she added.

"Each of the stories discusses ways that you can support somebody if you know somebody who is facing violence," said Ghosh. 

A cartoon offers an easy-to-read way to start a discussion and offer support, she said. "The intention was to be very accessible to people." 

OCASI and the Ontario Movement of the Francophone Immigrant Women (MOFIF) worked together on the project, which was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. 

"It was not about a lecture, talking down to, but actually a way that actually describes this very difficult topic in a manner that people could actually think about, process and engage with," said Tomlinson.