We Are The Marquette Movement seeks to spread important message

T-shirts reading “Silence is Not Consent” are displayed. The t-shirts, made by We Are The Marquette Movement, aim to help spread the word about the true legal meaning of consent in the context of sexual assault. Proceeds from t-shirt sales will be donated to the the Women’s Center of Marquette, which supports and offers services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The shirts can be purchased at https://superiorcac.wixsite.com/silenceisnotconsent. We Are The Marquette Movement is a local movement, founded by Hannah Syrjala and Jill Simms, that aims to provide education and outreach about consent and sexual assault, as well as offer support for survivors of sexual assault. (Photos courtesy of We Are The Marquette Movement)


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Silence is not consent. Not saying “no” isn’t the same as saying “yes.”

We Are The Marquette Movement is working hard to spread this message to educate the public on the true legal meaning of consent in the context of sexual assault.

The movement, started by Hannah Syrjala and Jill Simms, began in May and already reached tens of thousands of people with its message via social media.

The two women, who are employees of the Marquette County Prosecutor’s office, having been working on their own time to spread the word about the movement and address what they say is a major and pervasive misconception regarding consent to sexual activity.

“It became apparent that there is a giant misunderstanding as to what consent is, we do live in a small community, but it still is a big problem and the smaller we can make that problem, the better,” Syrjala said, noting that the movement is about “education and outreach and support for survivors (of sexual assault)”.

As part of the movement, the two women have been selling black T-shirts that read “Silence is Not Consent,” in a bold, white font, to spread their message and raise funds for the Women’s Center of Marquette, which supports and offers services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

They chose black and white for the T-shirts because they believe the issue of consent is black and white — it’s not a complicated issue, nor should it be, Syrjala and Simms say, as the law is clear — consent is necessary and just because someone doesn’t say “no,” does not mean they are consenting.

“It’s not on the survivor or the individual who feels victimized to say ‘no’ or do anything to stop things, it’s not on them,” Simms said. “You don’t have to actively resist to express that there’s not consent.”

Consent should never be assumed, they said.

“The assumption should not be that ‘you can do this to my body’, the assumption should be ‘this is my body and you need to respect this is my body and you should ask,’ Simms said, noting that it’s important to ask questions such as “is this OK?“,”do you want to do this?“, “are you sure?” when engaging in sexual activities to ensure their is mutual, informed consent between the parties involved.

To further illustrate the fact that “silence is not consent,” the two women gave a powerful analogy — proceeding with sexual touching, just because someone didn’t say “no,” to being touched, is analogous to proceeding to punch someone, just because they didn’t say “no” to being punched — just because a person is quiet, doesn’t mean they are saying it’s OK to proceed, and the fact that this is a “no-brainer” in physical assault, but not sexual assault, illustrates the troubling double standard surrounding the issue.

They said it’s important to recognize that when a sexual assault is occurring, the traumatic nature of the experience can cause involuntary physiological reactions — research has shown one of these involuntary physiological reactions can be a “freezing response,” which can interfere with a person’s ability to say “no” or remove themselves from the situation.

“There’s a reaction to sexual assault, called the “freeze reaction,” and it happens in a lot of cases and a lot of times victims don’t come forward because they say ‘I didn’t say no, I didn’t do anything to stop it.'”

Syrjala says they want to reach survivors of sexual assault with their message, as it can help them feel “validated and vindicated in a lot of cases, because they know that they’re not alone and that this is an issue.”

They also want survivors of sexual assault, who can often feel isolated in their experiences, to know that they are not alone and that it is not their fault.

“It happens to a lot of people and the more we talk about it, the more that people can start moving forward,” Syrjala says, noting “the way people heal and learn, is together.”

Simms and Syrjala say a number of sexual assault survivors have reached out to them since the movement went public, wanting to share their own stories.

“We have had a lot of response in regard to those people who have come forward and just shared their stories with us, not in our work capacity, but just as in a support capacity,” Simms said, adding that many “felt that they were wrong for so long because they didn’t actively resist.”

The movement also seeks to let survivors of sexual assault know that help and support is out there, within the criminal justice system, as well as in the community.

“Even if it happened 20 years ago and the statue of limitations is up, come forward and get the help to move past it that you need, just because it can’t go to court doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it, that you can’t get the help you need,” Syrjala said.

Of community support, Simms said, “there’s a lot of people out there that are going through, maybe not exactly the same thing, but have gone through it and are there to embrace you and help you.”

The movement will continue to work educate the public on the true meaning of consent through outreach activities and events, with the full support of Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese and the Women’s Center, to hopefully create a greater understanding of the issue — which, they emphasize, should not be complicated, controversial or debatable — it’s as simple as asking a person if they consent and respecting their response.

“This movement is not about debate, this is about education and raising up and empowering — and that’s what this movement is about,” Simms said.

For more information about the movement, visit https://www.facebook.com/We-Are-The-Marquette-Movement-2048926011990839/. To purchase a “Silence is not consent” T-shirt, visit https://superiorcac. wixsite.com/silenceisnotconsent.

Simms and Syrjala also recommend an educational video, titled “Consent: It’s as simple as tea,” which can be found at https://m.youtube.com/ watch?v=fGoWLWS4-kU.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline, which automatically routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider, can be reached at 800-656- HOPE.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal. net.