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"I told no one for 33 years"

Thursday 18 June 2020

"I told no one for 33 years"


Guernsey's Chief Minister has revealed he was once the victim of sexual assault, as he delivered an impassioned plea to "help break the social taboo" around speaking about the trauma of sexual violence.

Deputy Gavin St Pier was the figurehead behind a successful amendment to Guernsey's Sexual Offences legislation meaning that, in the future, the burden of proof will be on people accused of sexual assault to show that the complainant provided consent, if the complainant had consumed alcohol or another substance that made them incapable of providing informed consent.

It was approved as part of the modernisation of Guernsey's Sexual Offences Legislation, which the States resolved to reform back in 2011 and which it has taken various Home departments nine years to draw up.

During the debate on his amendment, Deputy St Pier referred to several stories of people he knew who had suffered in silence after being sexually assaulted.

Court

Pictured: Guernsey's Courts will now be able to sentence specifically for sexual crimes including grooming, possession of paedophilic materials and upskirting following the reform of the Sexual Offences Legislation. 

After his amendment was approved, Deputy St Pier revealed to his fellow Guernsey States Members that one of those accounts was in fact his own.

"My experience was not my main motivation for the amendment and does not provide my passion for this topic, that comes from another story that is not mine to tell," he said.

"And I didn't want to play an emotional card in an attempt to win the amendment. It was a few minutes over 30 years ago. It has not defined me. I was not damaged physically but certainly, for a while, I was psychologically traumatised. I cried. I was disgusted. I felt ashamed. I felt embarrassed. I felt humiliated. I felt responsible and guilty and I took the hand of that trusty non-consensual co-conspiritor, silence, and said nothing."

"I have lived with the reasons people don't speak up, I understand how a few minutes lived can turn into hundreds of hours of reflection. I told no one, literally no one, for 33 years. The average period of silence for men, by the way, is 26 years. I have spoken to no one about this outside my immediate family until this debate. I wasn't as I saw it a stereotypical victim. I didn't turn to drugs or alcohol. I arrogantly thought I was stronger than that. In fact I am the norm. I did what thousands do, I boxed it off in my mind and moved on, and I have not spoken out today because I am seeking your sympathy. Believe me, please, I really do mean it when I say I do not need it. And neither am I speaking out in some narcissistic search for accolades for how brave or courageous I am for doing so."

Pictured: Deputy St Pier's speech on consent, pornography and education.

He continued: "In all honesty, there is absolutely nothing I would have rather have done than stayed silent throughout this debate. But this is very firmly a head over heart matter. When people ask me as the former Bishop of Dover Trevor Wilmott once did why is it that I went into politics, I normally say something like "Because I am arrogant or stupid enough to believe that I can make a difference and improve people's lives" and I am arrogant or stupid enough to believe that this is one of those days.

"So yes, I am shamelessly using my experience and my office as a deputy and the platform of my role and this assembly to raise the profile of this issue. I am hoping that sharing my experience will help break the social taboo and make discussion of these issues more open and acceptable."

Deputy St Pier said he does not know what his political future holds, but that he intends to "champion improving the environment" for the victims of sexual violence.

Pictured: Deputy Lindsay de Sausmarez seconded Deputy St Pier's amendment.

"For starters, we really do need a justice policy that provides for a sexual assault referral centre. We need an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor and we need a rape crisis line. Sexual violence is a major, hidden and under-reported and un-tackled social problem in the heart of our community. We can and should ignore it no longer. We need systemic change to support victims, but most of all we need cultural change.

"If my speaking out empowers or encourages or enables merely one person to tell somebody they know what happened to them, it would have been worth my own personal discomfort. Or if merely one person feels able to report to Law Enforcement what happened to them, however historic, it would have been worth it. Or if merely one person feels just marginally better today than yesterday knowing that they really are not alone and that there are many others out there who have been through what they have been through, then it will have been worth it. Or if merely one person is comforted by the knowledge that their community and their government really does recognise this as a problem that will now be taken seriously, then it will have been worth it."

A full story on the consent amendment can be read HERE

Pictured top: Deputy Gavin St Pier. 

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