WINNIPEG — After decades of silence and frequent self-blame, Manitoba's minister for the status of women has come forward about being a survivor of sexual assault so she can help others realize there is a way to heal.
Rochelle Squires, 47, told The Canadian Press she was raped when she was 13 and felt she couldn't tell anyone.
"In the 34 years since then, every day of my life has been a journey — sometimes a journey towards recovery; sometimes a journey back into darkness," Squires said after making a statement in the legislature to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month Tuesday.
"I have gone back in my mind ... hundreds of thousands of times and talked to that 13-year-old girl and said to her: 'It's not your fault and you're going to be OK,'" she said, her voice quavering.
"And now that work is done. I don't need to tell that 13-year-old girl anymore, and so I want to use my voice to help others."
'Why did I feel to blame?'
Squires said she never went to police and stayed silent until she was well into her 30s and discussed it with a therapist.
"I felt overwhelmingly at fault, even at that age," she said. "It's a question I still have unanswered in my own mind. Why did I feel to blame?"
Squires did not identify the perpetrator, but said it was someone she had to continue to deal with on occasion.
After her teenage years, she had several careers, including journalism, before becoming a politician. She was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2016 and now, with a seat at the provincial cabinet table, she feels she can make a difference for victims of sexual assault.
I have gone back in my mind ... hundreds of thousands of times and talked to that 13-year-old girl and said to her: 'It's not your fault and you're going to be OK.'
She favours third-party reporting that allows complainants to tell their stories to a community victim-services group, which deals with police without revealing identities.
British Columbia already offers that option and the Manitoba government has been looking at following suit.
"I believe that will make a strong difference in so many lives if we have a place for people to go and share their testimony ... and yet not have to immediately go to a police station and fill out (a) report."
Squires also said societal attitudes have to change.
"As victims, we know intrinsically that something bad happened to us and it's not our fault. But then we look for cues in society — whether it be friends, social circles, judges, historic cases, the media — and ... the message we hear over and over and over again is: 'It kind of is your fault.'
"And then we internalize that trauma. And we bury it."
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