Image description: Lara Witt gives a speech beside an American sign language interpreter.
Photo by Danielle Corcione
Story by Octavia Geiger
On Saturday, September 30th, hundreds of people from different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds gathered in Thomas Paine Plaza at 11:00 am geared up to march. They carried various signs saying, “My Body, My Choice” or “Don’t Cum Unless Invited.” If you stood on the stage you could see a sea of people, mostly women, dressed in various attire from a bra and panties, to sweats, to jeans; being confident and comfortable was the memo. Soon after folks started gathering, a DJ started playing music and a dance party broke out on the floor. On the perimeter of the plaza were tables representing various organizations like Women In Transition (WIT), and Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), among other great organizations. There were also therapists on site to talk with people and a host of organizers and volunteers in black shirts smiling and ready.
The March to End Rape Culture grew out of a need to address one of society’s evil inventions: rape culture. According to the Marshall University Women’s Center, “rape culture” is defined as a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse. Throughout our society, rape culture starts with policing what women wear to school, to work, and in the street. This sends the message that women who get raped are “asking for it” if they’re wearing a certain type of clothing or flirting in a certain type of way. It further breaks down our society by telling men that male rape doesn’t exist, such as when society says, “men can’t be raped,” especially that men can’t by a woman. It completely ignores rape and sexual assault in the queer community and bleeds into higher education on college campuses and universities, with frat houses displaying obscene comments when first-year students move into their dorms.
Many people don’t see rape culture. The brilliance of systems of oppression is that they hide in our daily life, and it goes unnoticed by large amounts of people. It slips under the radar, and it denies itself when people discover it. However, it cannot stay hidden forever. People have discovered, will discover, and fight to end this oppressive paradigm. That is one of the purposes of the March to End Rape Culture, to raise awareness and raise consciousness about this societal problem.
RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) reports that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and one in six women and girls has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. If you’re in a classroom in school or a community setting and there are 24 women, statistics claim four of those women will have been sexually assaulted. These facts are just what’s being reported. Our criminal justice system utterly fails sexual assault victims. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. That is a staggering number, which leads to people not reporting rape and sexual assault, with fear that their attacker will not be prosecuted and punished. There needs to be a system that protects, helps, and believes survivors of sexual assault.
Before the march began, there were several speakers — including March to End Rape Culture organizers Quisha Anthony and Rosie Clark, PAVE Philly chair Preeti Pathak, Wear Your Voice Magazine managing editor Lara Witt, Project SAFE members Aisha and Merisa, Black and Brown Workers’ Collective organizer Nolwazi Monique, Rowan University student Destinie Cubler, and Take Back the Night organizer Cookie — talking about experiences that show why this march is important. Next to the event there were a series of counter-protesters, with two men holding signs that said, “Homos go to Hell,” and “Feminists are Whores.” A group of activists surrounded the counter-protesters and combatted their hateful message.
After hearing inspirational words and stories of overcoming personal struggles, the march began around the city. Hundreds of folks walked, chanting, “Yes means yes and no means no!” and other chants around center city, and one hour later the march was back at Thomas Paine Plaza.
The atmosphere was sharper this year. In the wake of the Trump administration rolling back Title IX, which is a federal act prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, and other programs for sexual assault awareness, this march was needed more than ever. It is no surprise where the White House stands on rape and assault, when the President of the United States himself has been accused of rape and has said misogynistic comments like “grab ‘em by the pussy.” Subsequently, this person went on to be elected into the highest office in the land, which shows just how deeply rape culture is embedded in our society.
Personally, I hope to one day live in a world where rape culture no longer exists. I am unsure if that world will ever happen, but I know that I must do all I can to fight for that world. Rape, sexual assault, and violence against women, the queer community, and all people is wrong. We must do what is in our power to shatter the silence and stop the violence.
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