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.
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.
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.”
We cried together, and hugged, and I think we all left feeling empowered/supported. I'm posting this with the hope that everyone with a similar experience, will go out & reclaim their space – chalk up this whole damn world.
— Chantal (@chantaliylace) June 12, 2019
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.”
I appreciate that sentiment so much, thank you. 💖
— Chantal (@chantaliylace) June 16, 2019
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.
I'd like to acknowledge a point that's been brought to my attention: This has the potential to be triggering for some pple, & I'm deeply sorry if this has inadvertently caused any pain. My intention was to build a community via empowerment; I hope this will do more good than harm
— Chantal (@chantaliylace) June 14, 2019
“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.