By Sarah Michaelson, Legal Advocate
On Tuesday, March 6, I had the opportunity to attend a rally at the state capitol as part of the Action Day to End Violence Against Women. This annual event has been held for several years, but this was my first time attending.
When I got to the capitol, the Men’s Rally had already started. Several men from around the state were talking about the work they have done to end violence against women, including Alexandra House’s own board member Andre Koen. To be welcomed to this event by these brave men accepting responsibility for their gender’s actions, and challenging other men to “stand up and speak out” was inspiring to me.
Moving into the rotunda for the next part of the rally, I recognized several advocates from other shelters and advocacy organizations. I was immediately reminded of how many passionate and dedicated activists there are around this great state, and I felt a sense of solidarity with them. The speakers at the rally shared chilling statistics about the ongoing epidemic that is violence against women: 1 in 3 women experience physical abuse, sexual assault, or stalking by her intimate partner at some point in her life. This is absolutely unacceptable. But work is being done to change it.
Guadalupe Lopez from the MN Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition spoke about her work with Native women who have been victimized through commercial sexual exploitation. She is documenting these women’s stories and changing the public’s perception of this problem. The average age a girl is first prostituted is 13. She is systematically beaten and raped, until she no longer feels she can escape the life she’s been forced into. Guadalupe spoke passionately about the need to change our view of seeing prostituted women as criminals, and instead shift the focus onto the consumers of commercial sex who create the demand that perpetuates this violence.
I was also very impressed with Pheng Thao, a community activist and anti-gender violence advocate. He spoke about the need to change the patriarchal culture that accepts and even promotes violence against women.
At the end of the speeches, the youth who attended the event were encouraged to come forward. There were so many kids from Alexandra House’s Choose Respect program, all wearing Choose Respect t-shirts and holding signs. They joined youth from around the state and they all chanted, “Girls are not for sale!” This part of the rally was so moving to me. To see all of these young people demanding change from our legislators reminded me of a popular saying from the women’s rights movement: “The personal is political.” We were all taking issues near and dear to our hearts to our representatives to ask them to support policies to protect abuse victims. The passion we all have for this work only takes us so far. We need people in positions of power to help us create safe environments for all women and children.
I was glad to see many state legislators in attendance, and those who spoke at the rally talked about the importance of working together to end violence against women, regardless of political party. This is an issue that impacts all women, of all ages, ethnicities, and social status, and should therefore not be treated as a partisan issue. I left the rally feeling inspired and re-energized, as I always do after a community event such as this. The rally reminded me of just how many people are working together to end violence against women, and I am so excited to be one of them.
Sarah has been with Alexandra House for over a year and has worked in the advocacy field for 3.5 years.