#Project97

Kathleen Wynne recalls her near miss with sexual assault

When Ontario's premier got real about close calls, she exposed the ambiguity that keeps women quiet about uncomfortable sexual experiences.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s press conference at Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis on Thursday should have been a relatively straightforward political appearance: announce $1.75 million more in funding for the province’s 42 sexual-assault support centres; smile for photos; leave. But then a reporter asked Wynne if she herself had ever been the victim of sexual violence. And things got human.

“I’ve been lucky — I’ve been privileged in my life not to have experienced serious sexual assault, but you can tell it’s hard to talk about,” Wynne said, her voice breaking slightly. “We all have experiences that we could go back to and say, ‘Was that my fault?’ ‘Could that have been different?’ ‘Boy, I escaped that one.’ Sometimes it’s the near misses, right?”

In just a three-minute unplanned aside, Wynne exposed the uncomfortable sexual situations that women face with some regularity — ones that, in their minds, don’t necessarily merit five-alarm terms like rape and assault. Instead, we favour terms like “weird” or “awkward” or even “not-rape,” as writer Alexandra Molotkow pointed out in a recent essay for Flare. Years later, looking back on those experiences — whether it was a too-drunk-to-really-consent undergraduate encounter or, in Wynne’s case, a late night in her workplace kitchen with a senior colleague 38 years ago — it can be easier to see them for what they really were.

This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.

Related: Kathleen Wynne’s $41-million plan to combat misogyny