City rally speaks against sex assault

Many people wear shirts reading “Silence Is Not Consent” while gathering on the steps of the Marquette County Courthouse at a rally held by local organization We Are The Marquette Movement. (Journal photos by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Many people gathered on the steps of the Marquette County Courthouse Thursday night to break the silence surrounding sexual assault at a rally held by local organization We Are The Marquette Movement.

Some came alone.

Some came with their families, friends and loved ones.

Many carried signs and wore shirts reading “Silence Is Not Consent” or “#CAUSEARUCKUS.”

Many more shared hugs, tears and stories.

All came together to make their voices heard.

At the start of the rally, the movement’s founders, along with Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese and Michelle Fortunato of the Women’s Center, took turns stepping up on a soapbox to share their messages with the crowd.

“We needed this movement — it was time to break the silence, we have been quiet too long,” said Jill Simms, an employee of the Marquette County Prosector’s Office who worked with coworker Hannah Syrjala to found the movement on their own time.

Simms spoke about the meaning behind “Silence is Not Consent,” a phrase adorning T-shirts sold by the movement to support the Women’s Center — survivors of sexual assault are never responsible for the actions of a perpetrator.

“We shouldn’t have to say ‘no,'” Simms said. “We shouldn’t have to wear certain clothes, we shouldn’t have to not say certain things, we shouldn’t have to act certain ways just so we aren’t assaulted. That burden needs to shift. It’s shifted in the law and it should shift now with everyone in Maquette County. It’s not on us.”

She added: “For some reason, ‘no means no’ isn’t enough — so let’s shift the burden, why is the burden on us?”

Fourtano, who spoke following Simms, shared powerful examples of why silence is not consent.

“Is it consent when a child has to endure someone touching them inappropriately because they do not know how to speak? Silence is not consent,” she said.

“Is it consent when a young girl or boy doesn’t say anything to a trusted adult when they lay down and take a nap because that’s their normal, it’s all they have known? Silence is not consent.

Is it consent when you decide to have a fun night out with your friends and one of those friends thinks it’s OK to rape you while you’re in shock and you’re frozen in fear, because after all it was your friend and you did not expect that, so you didn’t say anything? Silence is not consent.”

Following Fourtano, Wiese spoke about the laws surrounding sexual assault and consent.

“A victim need not resist, a victim does not have to fight back, a victim does not have to do anything,” he said. “It is upon the perpetrator to make sure he or she — but it’s mostly he, I’m not going to play that game — that he knows, that before he does something, he should have fully informed consent, period.”

He encouraged survivors to come forward, no matter how much time has passed since the incident.

“If you were sexually assaulted last night, last week, last month, last year, (or) five years ago and you’re in a spot where you can come forward and talk about it, we want you to come forward and talk about it,” Wiese said. “I guarantee you that you’re going to be not only heard, but you’re going to be listened to.”

Wiese emphasized that many cases of sexual assault do end in convictions.

“We are getting convictions. The cases that we didn’t get a conviction on 30 years ago, we’re getting convictions on now,” he said. “People are starting to understand, this is not a myth, this is real, this happens, people are to be believed. And thank goodness that the juries are hearing this message once and for all. Finally.”

The final speaker was Syrjala, who shared the reason for use of the term “survivor.”

“We use the term ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’ very deliberately. There are a lot of you here who are surviving because you are getting the help you need,” she said. “But there are a lot of people who do not make it through. There are a lot of people who are killed by their assailants and there are a lot of people who are killed by the aftermath of it.”

She encouraged those who have not been able to come forward about their experience with sexual assault to tell someone and seek help and support.

“If you are still hiding in the dark, if you have not come forward, or if you don’t feel comfortable coming forward, just talk to somebody,” she said. “And it’s so important, your story matters, it matters so much.”

Speakers thanked many at the close of their speeches, expressing gratitude to the large number of people who attended the rally to break the silence, as well as all who helped make the movement and rally possible.

They also pointed attendees to the resources that are available in the community, saying the Women’s Center of Marquette, Pathways of Marquette and the Superior Child Advocacy Center are all local resources for survivors of sexual assault.

A 24-hour help and information line is available through the Women’s Center and callers can receive immediate assistance.

For local help/support, call 906-226-6611. For long distance help/support, call 800-455-6611. For those who may not want to speak over the phone, text 906-356-3337.

For those who are interested in a T-shirt, a limited number of “#CAUSEARUCKUS” T-shirts are available for purchase at the Women’s Center in Marquette, all proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts will go to the Women’s Center, Syrjala added.

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