British Columbia

Christy Clark says changing attitudes is the way to stop violence against women

The single most important action needed to stop violence against women is to change attitudes, Premier Christy Clark said Friday.

Premier says no amount of money or new laws can solve the problem

Premier Christy Clark talking to CBC's Gloria Macarenko on B.C. Almanac, Friday June 10. (CBC)

The single most important action needed to stop violence against women is to change attitudes, Premier Christy Clark said Friday.

"We can't spend enough money [or] change enough laws to stop this violence," the premier said.

Clark, talking to the CBC's Gloria Macarenko on B.C. Almanac, explained that she had gone public about an assault she suffered at age 13 because she wanted to make it comfortable for women to talk about their experiences.

She said she found herself having to confront why she had stayed silent for 37 years and recognized it was connected to shame and embarrassment.

"The memory stayed with me vividly," Clark said. " But I had never really examined it."

The premier said she decided it was important for her to use her position to start a conversation and create an atmosphere for women to speak out.

She said what happened to her wasn't "the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone," but it was indicative of a wider issue that normalized unacceptable behaviour towards women and girls.

"I think the first time I was propositioned was in Shakey's Pizza bathroom at six years old," she said.

"I want to help change the attitude that women are forced to adapt, that [this] is normal. Because it should not be normal."

Countering criticism

While advocates and callers to B.C. Almanac applauded Clark's decision to go public, they also challenged her record on funding and support of women's organizations and legal aid.

Clark countered by reiterating her position that money was not the answer, noting her government's changes to family law and initiatives to help single parents back into the workforce.

She said it was the role of advocates to ask for greater funding, but that nothing would change until "every single one of us supports a community where there is zero tolerance for violence against women."

Clark shrugged off the idea that her decision to speak out was a cynical political move.

"I'm in politics. People will say what they want."

'I remember being very scared'

Clark went public with her own experience this week with an open letter to the media.

In it, she explains she was attacked by a stranger while walking to her part time job 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," Clark writes.

"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."

Why women stay silent

Clark says she was motivated to speak out about the attack for the first time as part of her decision to support a private member's bill presented by the Green Party's Andrew Weaver on sexual assault.

"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."