A Vancouver woman, who Black Press Media has agreed to identify as Chantal, took chalk to a stretch of sidewalk in Stanley Park where she was violently attacked and raped as a teen, in her efforts to reclaim the spot. (Chantaliylace/Instagram)

30 years later: B.C. woman uses sidewalk chalk to reclaim site of her sexual assault

Vancouver woman didn’t think her powerful story, written in chalk, would ignite such support

A pail of sidewalk chalk in hand, Chantal arrived at the stretch of path in Stanley Park where she was raped at the age of 16.

The Vancouver woman wanted to reclaim the place where she was violently attacked by a stranger, 30 years ago.

“I’m pretty sure this person thought that they had left me for dead,” Chantal said in a phone interview. Black Press Media has agreed to use only her first name to protect her identity.

She is one of an estimated 95 per cent of women who have been assaulted in Canada and were too scared to report it to police. She had to revisit the location almost daily as part of her high school gym class.

WATCH: ‘This isn’t a new problem’: Survivors, allies host #MeToo rally in Vancouver

Now 46, Chantal said she often walked through the park with her dog, careful to avoid the trails that connect to the location.

It wasn’t until earlier this month, while helping a close friend pursue criminal charges in her own assault, that she started mulling over how she could further provide support by showing her own strength and courage.

“Realizing how deeply broken the [justice] system is, and how little power we really have within it, I was feeling a little powerless and we felt like we were losing the fight,” she said.

She was walking with her friend through the park one day and decided to go to the site of her attack. She said she felt a sense of security standing there with someone who has experienced a similar attack.

READ ALSO: Federal cash for sex assault support will help at rural universities

Last Tuesday, after a quick stop at the corner store to buy some chalk, Chantal walked again to the spot in the park where her trauma began – this time, alone.

“I started by drawing a heart with wings on it and then wrote ‘I am not alone’ in it, and thought I’d leave it at that,” she said. “But then I sort of realized that I wanted to explain what it was about.”

She then added the message: “I was raped here at 16 years old. I’ve been afraid to walk here since then… Today, 30 years later, I reclaim this space. #Thisiswhere.”

Calling the drawing a “cathartic process,” Chantal said that as people walked by, eight women and one man stopped to read the message and share their own assault stories. Six of them asked if they could add drawings of their own.

“I thought people were going to get mad that I was graffitiing,” she said with a laugh.

“We cried together, and hugged, and I think we all left feeling empowered and supported… I really started to feel like I really wasn’t alone, and it was nice to feel that others weren’t alone.”

After posting a photo of the drawings on social media, her friends were quick to applaud her courage. But a few days later, Chantal returned to the spot and found the chalk had been washed away.

“Very clearly and specifically washed away… that was the only spot and it was still wet,” she said. It’s not clear if the act was in opposition to the message, or by city staff who manage the park.

Refusing to be diminished, she redrew the same heart and words.

“It made me feel like I was reclaiming it more.”

Knowing her message will be erased again – by rain or on purpose – Chantal said she hopes others find their own way to take part in the hashtag #thisiswhere to find closure and empowerment, whether by marking the location of their assault, sharing their story with family for the first time, or anything else that symbolizes a reclamation.

“The truth is, we still all feel we need to hide and keep these things to ourselves because it can make people uncomfortable,” she said. “But I don’t think that is helping anyone heal or helping change anything. Maybe it’s time people just start speaking out and making themselves seen so we know we are all there and can support each other.

“All I hope more than anything is this just sparks people to feel like they don’t have to suffer in silence or be invisible, and there is no shame in this, and that there is strength in numbers.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. See the sexual assault fact sheet provided by Victim Services and Crime Prevention. You can also call your local police or VictimLinkBC for information and support.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Freezing rain warning issued for central Interior Remembrance Day

Highway alerts in place for Begbie Summitt and Pine Pass

BCTF rejects mediator’s recommendations for settlement

Negotiations between B.C. teachers and the province will continue

Isaac Mack BCRA 2019 Bullriding Champion

Mack wrapped up the BCRA season with $12,484.99 in season earnings.

B.C. debate becomes bitter over impact of UN Indigenous rights law

Premier John Horgan cites salmon farm closures as model, opposition points to LNG, contracts

Indigenous-led organizations and province announce initiative to get North Coast communities off oil

First Nations communities from Haida Gwaii to Bella Bella will be eligible

VIDEO: Don Cherry says he was fired, not sorry for ‘Coach’s Corner’ poppy rant

Cherry denies he was singling out visible minorities with his comments

Report predicts drug resistance likely to kill 400,000 Canadians by 2050

This increase is expected to cost Canada 396,000 lives, $120 billion in hospital expenses

Sportsnet fires Don Cherry after negative comments about immigrants

Don Cherry had said immigrants don’t wear poppies like other Canadians do

Trudeau’s new cabinet: Gender parity because it’s 2019? Or due to competence?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon appoint his new cabinet

Canada among three G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

It says Canada, South Korea and Australia are the farthest off

Conservatives’ Scheer wants Trudeau to open Parliament Nov. 25

That’s five days after Justin Trudeau is scheduled to swear in a new cabinet

Last remaining Centurion tank from the Korean War makes its journey ‘home’ to B.C.

Tank arrives in B.C. the day before Remembrance Day after a more than 4,500-kilometre transfer

‘Your vehicle burns a lot of fuel:’ Victoria drivers wake up to angry notes

‘This handbill was left on your vehicle because your vehicle burns a lot of fuel,’ notes read

Canadians mark Remembrance Day this morning

This year exactly 101 years to the day after the end of the First World War

Most Read