‘Our turning point’: #WhyIDidntReport rally in SLO supports sexual assault survivors

Not long after Zette Harbour publicly shared her story as a sexual assault survivor earlier this week, the 55-year-old Los Osos resident began experiencing the all-too-familiar symptoms of PTSD.

Harbour, an activist and survivor, was one of about 100 people who gathered in solidarity with victims of sexual assault Wednesday evening outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse.

“It’s been a really important issue for me really my entire life,” Harbour said. “I’ve had experiences — traumatic and abusive experiences — and done a lot of work through the years. What is amazing to me is that now, with more of us speaking out into the world together, it’s radical. It’s unlike any other experience I’ve had in terms of my own healing journey from this situation.”

Women’s March San Luis Obispo organized the event through its Facebook page, where dozens of women began sharing their personal stories of sexual assault and domestic violence on Tuesday. At Wednesday night’s gathering, people wrote down their stories anonymously and pinned them to a communal board.

Several notes were posted to the “Hear Our Truth” board at the #WhyIDidntReport rally, listing the reasons that victims did not report their sexual abuse. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The nationwide outpouring comes in response to President Donald Trump’s public criticism of a woman who claims Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport began trending on social media after the president questioned the validity of the claim made by Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh.

Trump tweeted on Sept. 21: “If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed.”

Since the initial claim by Ford, three more women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.

Women’s March SLO co-founder Dawn Addis said victims all over the country have shared the intimate details of what they went through in part because Ford’s alleged experience is so relatable.

“I think it’s also showing the systemic piece of folks who did try to report and were met with so much resistance or told they shouldn’t,” Addis said.

One in three women and one in six men in the United States experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Additionally, rape is the most under-reported crime, with 63 percent of sexual assaults not being reported to police, according to the NSVRC.

Harbour said that, like so many others, she was shamed when she came forward years ago.

“Telling the story and having it come back that I was lying, that it was my fault somehow,” Harbour said. “When you’re a child and you have no power, you have no choice but to accept that. It’s overwhelming. It’s traumatizing. It’s something you carry around quietly inside for as long as you can.”

Harbour also emphasized the importance of publicly showing Kavanaugh’s accusers that other survivors are willing to stand up, too.

“What I’m really excited to see is that, if we do follow through with this, and if we do all say it together to each other, that maybe that’s sort of the final step in the healing,” Harbour said. “And that together we can really know that we’re protected and we’re cared for and we’re respected.”

“I would love to see this be our turning point.”

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