2018 National March Against Rape Culture in Washington D.C.

Video by Ben Libeskind 

Article by Jemma Harris 

At nine in the morning at Farragut Park on a sunny spring Saturday, one might expect a better turnout than only thirty-nine people. Unfortunately, even good weather couldn’t mitigate the longstanding recalcitrance and discomfort that the frank usage of the word rape instills in most people, and the NMARC, or National March Against Rape Culture, doesn’t shy away from it. Not one single speaker avoided its use or attempted to soften its blunt monosyllabic weight. From Dr. Sophia Marjanovic, the Ipai and Lakota anti-rape and court reform activist who firmly believes that rapists can’t be and don’t deserve to be helped by society or their victims, to the Holway family who spoke together about the ways that rape culture is systemically supported at every level of our society, not a single word was minced.

But what is rape culture? According to NMARC founder and organizer Emmalyn Brown, community organizer, activist, consent educator, and recent University of Iowa graduate, “rape culture is the perpetuation of rape and sexual violence, which of course encompasses sexual harassment, assault, and rape, in a society[…]through policies, through education that does not address comprehensive sex ed. It’s a society that allows that to take place.” Everyone else interviewed had similar responses, though none were as comprehensive.

Emmalyn has made a career of speaking out against rape culture and providing a voice to those so often silenced; back at university, she gave students workable definitions of consent and the varying forms of sexual violence, as well as information about healthy relationships, in order to help them stand up for themselves and be better allies to survivors. “The ability to help others address their own rights is what’s really meaningful to me,” she said at the end of the march, across the water from the Washington Rotunda. “When I was thirteen and I was assaulted, I didn’t have those tools, so it’s meaningful to me to give those tools to people and work on prevention so they never have to become survivors.” If you want to show support or see just how meaningful this march has been to survivors and allies alike, look no further than the official hashtag #nmarc or the more universal #standingwithsurvivors.

This was the motivation of almost everyone in attendance: making the world a place where no one has to survive sexual assault, making our society one that will not tolerate abusers. Three Howard University students—Summer Hill, Miss Purple and Gold, and Morgan Miller, Miss Omega Psi Phi, both won their titles by running their campaigns on anti-rape platforms; Sidney Darden came as a representative of the Alpha chapter of his fraternity—came to raise awareness and support for survivors. “It’s always going to be there,” said Morgan Miller with pointed passion, “but it’s our job as human beings to stop it.” Patience, the youngest speaker of the day at age eleven, was there to elucidate upon how she’s experienced rape culture not just on an interpersonal level, but coming from the administration of her own middle school: “My experiences with rape culture may not be extensive, but it happened to me, it was scary and embarrassing, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone ever.” When she told her story on stage, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience.

Other speakers, such as Maria Olsen, a Bethesda resident, author, mother, survivor, and radio host on the only LGBT station in our nation’s capitol, came on behalf of their own children—“I don’t want them to have to live this way, I want to do my part to change the culture that’s pervading our society.” Lacie Wooten Holway, a speaker who created a support network for the hundred and forty four known survivors of her rapist, spoke at the march and created that network because she understands, keenly, the need for solidarity.

To sum in all up in a word: hope.

Everyone interviewed said that they hoped for an America without rape culture. Whether they were a parent or a student, no one believed it was close on the horizon, but most had hope—not vaguely, and as Summer Hill, Howard University’s Miss Omega Psi Phi who won on an anti-rape platform, said, “not under this current president”—that our more socially aware and socially active generation could see rape culture to death’s door. In Maria Olsen’s words, “a march like this gives me great hope. Our country is capable of great change[…]I’m not gonna give up.” Non-profit organizer and filmmaker Semia Hamlin agreed: “everything all the other survivors have said, it’s giving me momentum to keep pushing with my nonprofit and to keep surviving.”

When the march came to an end outside the Capitol, those thirty-nine attendees had dwindled to twenty five, but those who remained were still full of vigor, valor, and righteous determination. Antonia Lassar of New York City and creator of the theatre program Post-Traumatic Super Delightful, said that she “wanted to talk and encourage this next generation to keep talking about sexual violence[…]The more we talk about it, the less it will happen.” She wasn’t the only one who believed this; everyone was eager to be interviewed, to share their stories and the various ways that we, as the Goucher student body, can help support the fight against rape culture.

If you’d like to sign Lacie Wooten Holway’s petition to see her and one hundred and forty four other women’s rapist behind bars, you can follow this link (x). Maria Olsen’s radio show, Inside Out on WPFW, can be listened to online or on air at 2:00p.m. on Tuesdays, or downloaded as a podcast on iTunes; she also has a self-help book coming out on Amazon in June called Fifty After Fifty: Reframing the Next Chapter of your Life, detailing her journey of recovery from abuse and addiction. Sophia Marjanovic’s court reform organization can be reached at marylandallianceforcourtreform@gmail.com. Information about Antonia Lassar’s play about the college campus rape crisis can be found at ptsdtheplay.com or on Twitter and Facebook at @ptsdtheplay. Semia Hamlin’s nonprofit, Resilient Individuals Surviving and Empowering can be found on Instagram at @weare_rise. Finally, if you want to learn more about the National March Against Rape Culture, you can visit their website at nationalmarchagainstrapeculture.com or email the organizer at emmalyn-brown@iowa.edu.

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