For 37 years, Christy Clark didn’t tell anybody about the time a man pulled her into the bushes when she was walking to work.
But it never left her mind.
“It’s just part of your memory. It’s not something in the past 20 years that I’ve grieved over, had to struggle with and had to recover from, like many women do from really terrible sexual violence. But it’s something I’ve never forgotten. Never.”
In an interview with Global News, her first comments since writing a piece about her experience as a teenager, Clark talked about her decision to open up.
“I never asked myself, ‘why didn’t you ever tell anybody? What was it about this, that is so bad, that you’re 50 years old, and you still never told a soul?’” she said.
“I was 13. And, everything that I knew kind of taught me that these sorts of things just happened.”
“It wasn’t okay, but I felt like I had to pretend like it was okay. So I never told anybody. Ever.”
Clark changed her mind earlier this year, after Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver introduced a private member’s bill on sexual assault.
Called the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act, the bill requires policies at university and colleges aimed at making sure students can report sexual assaults and feel safer on campus.
“I thought well, this bill is about trying to allow women to talk about these things that have happened to them,” she said.
READ MORE: New bill targets sexual misconduct at post-secondary schools
“You kind of get used to not talking about it. And I thought, if women still aren’t talking about it, like this was in 1978, nothing’s really changed. So that was when I decided I wanted to say something about it.”
Clark acknowledges that her unique position motivated her to speak up.
“I am the Premier of British Columbia and I am not the most vulnerable woman in the province and I have a platform to do it. And I really felt like I had a responsibility to do it,” she said.
“So once I decided that I was going to support the bill, I think at that moment, I also decided that I was going to be prepared to talk about it. To use this platform I have the privilege of occupying and try and do something good out of it.”
She’s also aware that as a premier, facing re-election in 11 months, every announcement she makes will be scrutinized by certain critics through a political lens.
“Some people will be cynical all the time and that’s the way they’ll be. But I hope that for most people this will mean that we promote a conversation about it. And I hope that for some women it makes them comfortable talking about their experiences,” she says.
WATCH: Some might be skeptical of the premier’s motives for speaking out about her sexual violence but the fact is, personal politics is nothing new for Christy Clark. Keith Baldrey has more.
But she says that overall, the response has been heartening.
“Almost everything, all the feedback, that people have sent me publicly and on Facebook – people who vehemently disagree with me on everything and have spent their working careers attacking my views on things – [has] said that we can come together about this. And I think there are some things that we should come together about,” she said.
“If we want to stop some of this from happening, we have to shame them. We have to shame the predators. Not the victims.”
Mixed reaction from women’s advocates
Reaction from women’s advocates has been mixed. Many are applauding her decision to share her experience, but some say Clark’s actions tell a different story of her support for survivors in British Columbia.
“She hasn’t done anything, anything for violence against women. She has done nothing to improve the situation for women, to offer more support, more services or fund existing well established services,” said Hilla Kerner of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.
“I view it as quite an opportunistic move. Christy Clark has been Premier for more than five years and she has done nothing for violence against women.”
WATCH: Nadia Stewart speaks with people unimpressed with Clark’s record on the issue
Despite increased awareness about sexual assault and violence against women, advocates say the need for more funding and support is one they grapple with daily.
It’s a challenge Ariana Barer is all too familiar with.
“Sometimes women call and they receive a busy signal when they’re phoning us on our crisis line because we are not adequately funded to fully meet those needs and we have women on a wait list and they shouldn’t be there,” said Bearer, an educational outreach coordinator at Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Relief Centre.
Clark’s government said it has spent $70 million every year since 2011 on programs for women who are victims of violence. Last April, the government announced $5 million worth of civil forfeiture funds would be used as grants to fund violence prevention initiatives focused on women.
The premier admits there’s still work to be done.
“We do have more to do, I mean we’re never there all the time and one of the things that we can try and do is empower women to speak out,” said Clark.
“For women to feel safe and whole and for us to know that this kind of behaviour isn’t normal? We can’t keep it silent.”