VANCOUVER — British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has revealed an intensely personal story behind a new law enacted to prevent sexual violence and misconduct at post-secondary institutions.
Clark said in an op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun on Thursday that for 35 years she’d kept silent about being attacked at age 13 by an unknown man who tried to pull her into some bushes.
She said she managed to get away and “ran like the wind.”
Clark said she has always wondered if, due to her silence, the man continued his behaviour and caught a girl who could not get away.
“I wish I’d had the courage to say something then. I do now,” she said in the op-ed.
The province’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act was passed in May. The law was proposed by Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver as a private member’s bill, but Clark stood in the legislature and announced her government would support it.
The bill requires post-secondary institutions to implement stand-alone policies to respond to sexual violence. It will come into effect one year after royal assent, in order to give institutions time to create and establish policies with input from students.
“I knew it was the right thing to do,” Clark said in the op-ed. “It speaks to the large number of women and men who stay silent about their experiences. For over 35 years, I’ve been one of them.”
Clark said even though she didn’t have the courage to speak about assault at the age of 13, she does now.
“I remember all of the sexual advances from strangers: getting flashed, groped, spied on.”
Since coming forward with her own experience, she said almost every female colleague and friend has shared a similar tale, and none had spoken up.
“I want women who have never said anything about sexual violence in their lives to know they are not alone,” Clark said, while urging institutions where women live, work and study to understand the breadth of the problem.
Her op-ed drew support from B.C.’s independent children’s representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
“I am extremely proud of the premier for acknowledging in public her own experience,” she said. “This is difficult and personal and she found her voice now to speak out. This tells me that even in high office there’s pressure to keep quite, forget or just frankly pretend all is fine, when it’s not.”
Turpel-Lafond said her work with B.C.’s vulnerable children reveals children and families require strong supports, safety and police protection. She said this year’s byelection of New Democrat Melanie Mark, who has spoken publicly of the abuse she has suffered, opened public channels about such issues across the province.
New Democrat Kathy Corrigan recounted a terrifying abuse incident in her teenage years during debate of the government’s sexual violence law.
Clark said the issue of sexual violence needs more voices.
“Let’s build a community where women and men who have dealt with sexual violence can feel safe and comfortable talking about it,” she said. “Let’s get to work on addressing it.”
Ontario was the first province in Canada to adopt similar legislation earlier this year.