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

PHOTOS: Sold-out crowd enjoys BCHL game at the Brindy

Alberni Valley Bulldogs beat Trail Smoke Eaters 5-2

Campbell River RCMP officer assaulted during traffic stop

Officer expected to make a full recovery; had been conducting impaired driving investigation alone

Campbell River hydro project workers pitch a perfect safety game

The billion dollar price tag is not the only astonishing number

PHOTOS: More than 40 people gather for pro-choice rally

Event was planned to coincide with pro-abortion speaker Denise Mountenay presentation

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

‘Midget’ no more: Sweeping division name changes coming to minor hockey in Canada

Alpha-numeric division names will be used for the 2020-2021 season and beyond

Ottawa urges CN and union to continue talks as 3,200 workers go on strike

The rail workers began their strike after failing to reach a deal by a midnight deadline

Trans Mountain received $320M in government subsidies in first half 2019: report

The money included $135.8 million in direct subsidies and $183.8 million in indirect subsidies

Student tells B.C. Supreme Court she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

Girl cross-examined Monday in Nanaimo courtroom, case continues Tuesday

UPDATED: Vancouver Island’s Joe gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty case

Melissa Tooshley expected in court on Thursday in same case

Nineteen boats carrying invasive mussels stopped at B.C. borders

Waters of Columbia-Shuswap still test mussel-free

Woman ‘horrified’ after being told to trek 200 kilometres home from Kamloops hospital

‘I can’t get from Kamloops back to 100 Mile House injured, confused… no shoes, no clothes whatsoever’

Sentencing scheduled Tuesday for man who killed Belgian tourist

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Sakkalis near Boston Bar

Most Read