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

North Island Rising: A very powerful voter

There is another non-voter though that I would love to see back in the voting booth.

Town of Port McNeill’s financial statements are in, and the numbers might surprise you

One resident asked why CIBC bank charges (Fiscal Expense) were $15,000 higher than the previous year

OPINION: A Kayaker’s Paradise with no Kayaks

A kayak rental would greatly bolster tourism in Port Alice.

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: A bird and some otters

Here’s two pictures I took while out in my skiff just cruising around the inlet enjoying the weather.

B.C. salmon farm inspection deal reached with Indigenous people

Monitoring to determine if any Broughton region farms stay open

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

One-in-five British Columbians think they’ll win big while gambling: study

Roughly 58 per cent of British Columbians bought at least one lottery ticket in past year

Takaya, B.C.’s intriguing lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

Oak Bay father’s testimony at murder trial like plot of ‘bad low-budget movie:’ Crown

Crown alleged Andrew Berry’s ‘entire story of Christmas Day is a lie’

B.C. truck drivers to face higher fines for not using winter tire chains

As of Oct. 1, not using chains on the highway when required could net you a $598 ticket

Most Read