National Newswatch

BURNABY, B.C. — British Columbia Premier Christy Clark says she is finally speaking out about a sexually motivated attack that happened 37 year ago in an effort to chip away at the culture of silence. 

"It wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to anybody by a long shot. And I had to ask myself why I didn't want to talk about it, why I had never even told my spouse," she said at an unrelated news conference Friday.

"And the reason was is I was ashamed about it and I didn't think anybody would care."

Clark revealed that at 13 years old, she was dragged into some bushes while walking in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, but escaped.

The premier has been commended by many people for revealing her frightening personal experience, but one women's advocate says Clark has been in office for years without taking action on the issue of sexual assaults.

"Raising awareness is not enough. She's not starting the conversation, the conversation has been happening. Women have been calling rape crisis centres for many years now," said Hilla Kerner, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, the oldest centre in Canada.

"If the premier claims to have solidarity with women, she must act on that. She is the most powerful woman in B.C. She should use that to advance women's safety, women's equality and women's liberty."

Clark made her comments a day after her account of the attack was published in the Vancouver Sun. She described a man suddenly emerging to pull her out of sight, and the struggle that occurred before she escaped his grip and ran away.

Her government recently supported the passage of new legislation requiring post-secondary institutions to enact stand-alone sexual assault policies.

Clark raised the law as evidence when asked on Friday whether more resources would be dedicated to helping those who have been sexually assaulted. 

"Women don't talk about it because they don't think anybody will do anything about it," she said.

The government spends about $70 million each year on support for female victims of violence, Clark added.

"There's going to be more than we can do, for sure. But it's one step at a time."

B.C.'s representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps have both praised Clark for acknowledging her own experience.

Kerner said there are many problems that must yet be solved, ranging from the closure of rape relief centres across the province to frozen welfare rates that "doom" women to stay with abusive men.

She said police rarely prosecute suspects of sexual violence and that her organization has tracked at least 24 media reports of women in B.C. being killed by their partners over the last two years.

Vancouver's rape crisis shelter gets 1,200 phone calls every year, but supports itself without government funding, she added.

Clark said women and men are "equally important" in continuing the discussion.

Several women have told her they have relayed difficult stories to their significant others since she shared her own, but many others remain silent.

"I think that's the culture that we all have to change and I think dads can really do that with their daughters and with their sons, in letting them know that all of these things do really matter.

"We should be unafraid and unashamed to talk about them."

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

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