Clockwise from top left: Anna Granuzzo Silverman

The faces of courage

Six women share their stories of sexual assaults in a Surrey Women's Centre campaign for change.

Gillian Dent didn’t have an easy story to tell, but she came forward – and quickly.

In early May 2015, she was drugged and sexually assaulted off campus while attending Capilano University in North Vancouver.

The attack took place at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, by a man she had known at school.

The circumstances are proof, she says, that a sexual assault “can happen anywhere, at any time.”

She reported it immediately to the North Vancouver RCMP who, after two months, told her they would take no action other that to tell the man to stay away from her.

Dent was shocked at the betrayal and lack of compassion by the police – that they believed a “manipulator” rather than her.

Recent media stories have drawn attention to the topic of sexual assault.

With the acquittal of CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, Premier Christy Clark’s recent statement that she was the victim of an attempted assault when she was 13, the longtime dismissal of Bill Cosby’s accusers and a recent gang rape in Brazil, many women continue to suffer silently, unwilling to come forward about their abusers.

Now, the Surrey Women’s Centre (SWC) is offering up a counter-punch with words of courage from six women, including Dent, who are sharing their personal stories online.

Faces of Courage: Shoutout for Change (facesofcourage.ca) focuses on their experiences of sexual assault, framed by two questions: Who was the first person they told and why?

“It does take that courage to come forward and open up about your story,” says Dent, a White Rock resident and SWC client who, after her trauma, made efforts starting last year to provide support to other victims of sexual assaults on post-secondary campuses.

Three of the women sharing their stories in the SWC campaign are counsellors at the centre and three are clients.

Women who come forward are often seen as villains and are accused of being liars, attention seekers or scorned lovers.

“Sexual assault is not sex – it is assault,” says Sonya Boyce, executive director of Surrey Women’s Centre. “Survivors of sexual assault should be able to tell their stories without being discredited just because they are women or because they are speaking out against men. Rape is not a metaphor for sex.”

Dent says that although the justice system failed her, she believes she did the right thing.

“I felt that coming forward opened up doors to the support that’s out there… to know that you’re not alone.”

 

At left: Gillian Dent. Photo courtesy Surrey Women’s Centre.

 

On the Faces of Courage page, Dent is brutally direct: “I was brought up to fight for what I believe in. So when I knew that what happened to me was not right, I had to do something. This is my version of a baseball bat to that guy’s face. This is my form of justice.”

On June 7, Dent graduated with bachelor of business and administration, with an advanced diploma in marketing.

“Even though this has happened to me, I was still able to complete my degree.”

Anna Granuzzo Silverman understands why the public sometimes turns on women who come forward with stories of sexual assault.

Silverman, a counsellor at the SWC, was sexually assaulted by a man she was dating – and continued to date for a few days after the assault.

She describes her reaction at the time as counter-intuitive and illogical.

“Relationships are complex,” she says. “They don’t (always) just start and stop.”

Silverman has had years to process what she went through.

“The assault completely caught me off guard,” she wrote online. “I cared about him. He was very remorseful. And I was just as confused about my choice to continue dating him after the assault.

“Part of my healing was telling someone what happened, even though it was really hard to do.”

The Faces of Courage campaign runs throughout June and the stories will remain online into next year.

The SWC encourages its readers and followers to show support for the survivors who have come forward by giving a shout-out on social media using the hashtag #ShoutOut4Survivors.

Support for women in crisis

The SWC offers a wide range of crisis, court and counselling services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other forms of abuse.

The also offer 24-hour support over the phone (604-583-1295) or in person with their Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team (SMART) – a staff member can accompany can accompany a woman to the hospital immediately following an assault.

For more information about the Surrey Women’s Centre, visit surreywomenscentre.ca/

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