B.C. Premier Christy Clark reveals personal story behind support for campus sex assault bill

"I knew all too well why women stay silent. For over 35 years, I've been one of them," B.C. Premier Christy Clark writes about why she backed a private member's bill on sexual assault.

'I do remember all of the sexual advances from strangers: getting flashed, groped, spied on,' she writes

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her own personal experiences with sexual assault led her to support a private member's bill. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark supported a private member's bill on sexual assault because she went through things "no person should experience" as a young girl, she reveals in a letter released to the media this morning.

"As I sat in my chair on the floor of the legislature, it struck me: I knew all too well why women stay silent. For over 35 years, I've been one of them," Clark says in the letter.

"Earlier this spring, the Greens introduced a bill that would set clear guidelines for sexual assault and misconduct at all public post-secondary institutions in B.C. I happened to be reading it during question period when I was surprised with a question about whether or not we would pass it," the letter says.

"As I got up to answer, I decided that our government would pass the legislation. I knew it was the right thing to do."

Pulled into bushes by stranger

Clark recalls growing up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby in the days "when there were lots more kids than parents around. The days before chronic over-scheduling, when kids were allowed to waste time and wander."

But with that freedom came some dangerous encounters, the letter says.

"I don't remember everything from my youth, but I do remember all of the sexual advances from strangers: getting flashed, groped, spied on. Things that no person should experience, let alone a young girl or teenager."

In particular Clark recalls one incident when she was attacked by a stranger while walking to work when she was 13 years old.

"It was a sunny day, and I was walking to work at my first job. A man suddenly jumped out, grabbed me and pulled me out of sight into a deep copse of shrubs.

"He didn't say anything. I don't even remember what he looked like. I remember wondering where he had come from, and why I hadn't seen him. And I remember being very scared.

"Luckily, it didn't last long. When he pulled me down the little slope, it must have shifted him off balance. He loosened his grip for a moment, giving me a chance to wriggle away, clamber a few feet forward, and get out of the bush.

'I never told anyone'

"Once I got out into the sunlight, I ran like the wind. When I got to my restaurant job, overflowing with relief that I was safe, I stopped outside to catch my breath. Then I went in, put on my apron, and got to work.

"I never told anyone," the letter continues. "Not about this or any of the other frightening things of a sexual nature that happened to me as a child or a teenager. For 35 years, it's as though they never happened. I told myself: Get over it. Bad things happen. It was trivial."

Now, years later, she says she realizes that victims of sexual assault need help ending their silence.

"Sexual violence is common. Unfortunately, so is staying silent about it. Our silence makes it easier for those who wish to harm us.

"I'm not speaking out for sympathy; I don't need it," she says. "I am speaking out because as Premier of British Columbia and B.C.'s first elected female premier, I am privileged to have a public platform. I want women who have never said anything about sexual violence in their lives to know they are not alone.

"You know what bothers me the most about what happened to 13-year-old me? Not knowing if the man who pulled me into the bushes kept going until he caught a girl who couldn't get away. I wish I'd had the courage to say something then. I do now. "

Bill introduced by Green Party MLA

Clark's letter says the move to support the private member's bill may be a break from tradition, but that's an "unfortunate tradition in Canada's notoriously partisan Parliaments."

The original private member's bill, M205, was introduced in March by B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, in response to concerns about mishandling of a number of sexual assaults reported on campuses in B.C. and across Canada.

While the government initially shot down the idea, a few weeks later, Clark said the issue "really struck home to a lot of people, including me," and announced in April her government would support it. The government then amended the proposed legislation and tabled it as Bill 23.

The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act, was passed by the Legislature in May. It give universities and colleges one year to put in place specific policies on sexual violence that set out clear procedures for responding to complaints and outline support services for victims.

Earlier this week, UBC introduced its draft policy.

More support still sought

Farrah Khan, a sexual violence support and education co-ordinator at Ryerson University in Toronto, applauded Clark's decision to speak out.

"I'm so glad she did, because it opens up the door for other women to tell their stories, other women to get the support they need, and to know they are not alone and that they'll be believed heard and seen."

Irene Elhaimer, director the Women Against Violence Against Women, also commended the premier, but said the province could do more to support the victims.

"It's so hard to talk about sexualized violence. But then to want to have someone to support you and to call WAVAW rape crisis centre and to have to be on a list of over 200 women wanting support after sexualized violence — that is absolutely unacceptable."

Read the full letter from Premier Christy Clark

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