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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cloverdale automobile shop offers to pick up, service, and drop off vehicles

Surrey’s Visscher-Pau Automotive starts ‘Blue Glove’ valet service — will cover Cloverdale, Langley, Newton, Fleetwood, and Hazelmere

White Rock brewery turns up the (alcohol by) volume in COVID-19 fight

3 Dogs Brewing is making hand sanitizer for frontline workers, general public

Surrey RCMP looking for ‘distraction theft’ suspect

Suspect allegedly tried to swipe a man’s necklace while giving him a hug

1,000 food hampers packed for delivery to students of Surrey’s inner-city schools

City Dream Centre-led initiative involved volunteer effort at Horizon Church in Newton

Surrey councillor wants property taxes deferred to December

Linda Annis is expected to present notice of motion to that effect at April 6 “virtual” council meeting

Fraser Valley auto sound business starts producing face shields

Certified Auto Sound & Security is doing what it can to help frontline healthcare workers.

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Most Read