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The Telegram
  • Marchers take back the night in Herkimer

  • “Yes means yes. No means no.

    “Whatever we wear. Wherever we go.”

    This and other chants could be heard Thursday evening as the YWCA Mohawk Valley conducted its annual Take Back the Night rally, march and speak-out against sexual violence.

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  • “Yes means yes. No means no.
    “Whatever we wear. Wherever we go.”
    This and other chants could be heard Thursday evening as the YWCA Mohawk Valley conducted its annual Take Back the Night rally, march and speak-out against sexual violence.
    The event began and ended in Myers Park, where participants could view the YWCA’s Clothesline Project, which consists of T-shirts created by survivors of domestic and sexual violence as part of their healing process. There was also a pinwheel display to represent the 22 adults and 291 children who received services from the YWCA during 2012 as a result of sexual assault.
    “That’s 291 children just last year,” said Herkimer County District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter. He said the good news is those children spoke up and received services, but he added, “That number is entirely too large.”
    Keynote speaker David Wolfanger spoke about the rape and torture of children in church-run schools.
    “I was one of them,” he said. “For 40 years I buried it. I did what I was supposed to do. I shut up. I didn’t tell my parents who loved me.”
    He urged his listeners to speak out about such crimes and about the dogma that allows the abuse of children, especially girls, to continue in many parts of the world. “I shut up and more kids were molested because I didn’t have the courage to speak out,” said Wolfanger.
    A large crowd of participants, led by YWCA staff members, marched out of Myers Park and around the village of Herkimer, stopping at Frank J. Basloe Public Library to lay flowers in honor of those killed in the March 13 shootings. The group also stopped in front of the YWCA office on North Washington Street to leave flowers in honor of those who came to receive services because of rape or sexual abuse. The third stop was in front of the police station in recognition of the role the police play, as they are often the first person a victim comes in contract with following a sexual assault. The manner in which they respond can make a big difference in the victim’s experience. The procession then returned to Myers Park for the speak-out portion of the program.
    A woman who introduced herself as Wanda said she was raped as a child and began a long journey of self-destructive behavior, including dropping out of school. “I had a grandmother who prayed for me, although she didn’t live to see me turn my life around.”
    At age 25, she decided it was time to get her life together, but she didn’t seek counseling until she was 33. Counselors had to tell her that being gang-raped was not a normal part of growing up, she said.
    “Forgiveness is not easy,” she said, “but it’s better than destroying yourself.”
    Page 2 of 2 - She said it took three tries, but she obtained her GED and is currently on the way to earning a doctorate in theology.
    “I’m on a good journey now,” she said.
    Another speaker said a friend of her father’s had raped her during a camping trip. He was placed on probation for 10 years, but is still free and in the Utica area, she said.
    “As a victim, I encourage anyone here don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Don’t be quiet,” said another woman.
    A fourth participant talked about growing up in a dysfunctional family and being molested as a young child and later being abused by a sibling who became a police officer. She attempted suicide and engaged in other self-destructive behaviors for a time.
    “No perpetrator can erase the soul’s potential,” she said. “Today is a good day for healing.”
    Another survivor said a family member molested her, leaving her dealing with fear and shame. “I started smoking at 13 and by the time I was 16 I was smoking a pack a day and was considered an alcoholic,” she said.
    When she finally reported the incident, the perpetrator took and passed a lie detector test. She was accused of lying.
    “I vowed never to speak out again,” she said. Eventually, though, she decided it was time to get her life together. She quit using drugs and alcohol and stopped smoking. She graduated tenth in her high school class and is currently attending college and playing sports. “I’m doing everything people said I could never do,” she said, adding she is doing these things with the support of her friends. “Reach out and you will find people ready to listen,” she said.
    Victims of sexual violence can find help 24 hours a day by calling 797-7740 or 866-4120. All services are free and confidential. For more information, visit www.ywcamv.org.

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