For years, Jaclyn Miles was afraid to share her story.
Ask her and she’ll tell you: Like many victims of domestic and sexual abuse, she was afraid others would judge her after hearing what she went through.
In January, the 23-year old Faculty of Education student shared her story for the first time as a contestant in the Miss Canada pageant. Miles believes her message is the reason she won the competition, one based on personality, not strictly beauty, with young women coming together to mobilize change in the world.
“I was afraid to admit that I was a victim up until that point. But we need to have courage and step up to do something about (abuse) and I thought I would take a step in breaking the silence,” she said.
“This all happened for a reason. I didn’t enter the (pageant). I randomly got picked, so I knew there was a greater purpose for this,” she added, explaining the pageant’s director sent her a message on Facebook after seeing her compete in the Miss Earth Canada competition.
Miles, who also endured severe bullying in school, was crowned Miss Canada at the competition’s finals in Montreal. She is using her new role to speak out against abuse in all its forms though a campaign, ‘Break the Silence.’
“I go to schools and give a presentation which talks about standing up for yourself if you are a victim, and not being a bystander, if you’re not (a victim),” she said. “Every time you are a victim of abuse, if you don’t stand up for yourself, the victimization builds. If you are bullied, it lowers your self-confidence and makes you more susceptible to further abuse.”
She has spoken at both elementary and secondary schools, Miles said, so she is selective with the story she shares.
With a younger audience, she speaks about the bullies who tormented her in grade school. Miles’ father eventually started meeting his daughter at the school’s doors to pick her up.
Children can relate and connect to this story, Miles said, noting some have spoken to her after her presentation and asked for help and advice.
With high school students, she shares a different story – one of severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse she went though in a relationship while in university.
Regardless of the age of her audience, Miles stresses the need to stand up, report all forms of abuse and seek help.
“After every presentation I get tons of messages and emails. I’m actually stunned by the amount of (students) going through a situation as teenager that I went through as an adult,” she said.
If students approach her and admit to being victims of bullying or abuse, Miles not only shares resources available to them, but, in some cases, even reports bullying to school authorities on a student’s behalf.
“Abuse is a huge issue and it’s (widely) under-reported. We need to educate people about it,” she said.
This is why she wants to be a teacher, Miles added.
“I want to be a positive influence. You have no idea how you can impact someone as a teacher,” she said. “I’ve had some great teachers. And because I was so badly bullied in school, I can maybe perceive what’s going on in a child’s life.”
On her last teaching placement at Jack Chambers Public School in London, Miles has been touring as Miss Canada, sharing her message at schools, events and community organizations.