In a letter released this morning, B.C. Premier Christy Clark explains that she supported a private member’s bill on sexual assault because she went through things “no person should experience” as a young girl.
“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.”
The bill, introduced by B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, aimed to set clear guidelines for sexual assault and misconduct at public post-secondary institutions in B.C. The government rarely supports bills introduced by opposition parties, but the Liberal leader made an exception for this one, for personal reasons, but also as a means to support victims.
Growing up in Burnaby, Clark says she was 13 years old when she was attacked by a stranger while walking to work:
“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.”
She went to work and never told anyone what had happened. Nor did she tell anyone about the other experiences she shares with so many other women and girls, “getting flashed, groped, spied on.”
Clark explains that she recently shared her story with a number of female and colleagues, and that almost all of them had similar stories… But none of them spoke out. Clark said she stayed quiet about her assault because she was ashamed and didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable — she thought she would be perceived as overly dramatic and “self-absorbed.”
Clark goes on to explain that she is speaking out now, not because she wants “sympathy,” but because, she is privileged to have a public platform as Premier of British Columbia and B.C.’s first elected female premier:
“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 […]”
The private member’s bill (originally introduced by the Greens as Bill M205: Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act) was in response to the ongoing campus rape crisis that continues to be mishandled by administrators. When Clark announced her government would be supporting it, it was amended and tabled as Bill 23.
Passed by the Legislature in May, the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act gives universities and colleges one year to establish and implement sexual misconduct policies that address “sexual assault, sexual harassment, misconduct and other preventable episodes which require a response.”
Institutions will be required to consult with students on the development of these policies and, once in place, to conduct surveys on their effectiveness.
Previously, public post-secondary institutions were not required to have a policy to address sexual violence and sexual misconduct on campus.
“Sexual violence is common. Unfortunately, so is staying silent about it. Our silence makes it easier for those who wish to harm us. We don’t share our stories, we don’t think anyone would care much if we did, and then we live with the warped impression that we are alone in our fear and shame.”
She concludes her letter by saying, “I wish I’d had the courage to say something then. I do now.”