Breaking the silence

Megan Arriola (l) and Bri Byram at a Break the Silence Day truth-telling event. Photo by Michelle Bruch

One-hundred and twenty-six women and men have participated in “Break the Silence” events in Minneapolis to speak out as survivors of sexual assault, abuse and rape.

They took turns at a microphone Aug. 17, telling of violent boyfriends, attacks in parking lots, or lost memories after strangers sent drinks to the table. Some had never said the words out loud before. They included a woman who attended a professional conference and awoke to discover she couldn’t move.

“I didn’t see it coming,” she said.

One man said he was raped at age 12 after accepting a ride home from a stranger.

“I told myself for many years that I deserved that for getting in that car,” he said.

Southwest Minneapolis’ 5th Precinct saw 38 reports of rape in 2016 through July, which is higher than average based on year-to-date statistics dating back to 2000 in Uniform Crime Reports. At least two rape victims were age 12, according to police reports. Sexual assaults were reported this year in neighborhoods including Linden Hills, Kenny, Kingfield, East Isles, Stevens Square, Whittier, CARAG, The Wedge, Lyndale, East Calhoun, Lowry Hill and Kenwood. Crime Prevention Specialist Jennifer Waisanen said more than half of the cases appear to involve acquaintances.

The I-35W bridge was lit in teal Aug. 17 to honor survivors of sexual violence. Photo by Michelle Bruch
The I-35W bridge was lit in teal Aug. 17 to honor survivors of sexual violence. Photo by Michelle Bruch

According to one police report, a 19-year-old attending a party in February at the 2800 block of Dupont Avenue South blacked out and awoke to discover a suspect pulling her pants and underwear down and attempting to have sex with her. She was able to get away, according to the report, and went to a hospital and contacted police.

At least one suspect of rape in the 5th Precinct was recently charged with the crime. In that case, an adult woman awoke from sleep at the 3400 block of Colfax Avenue South* to find an intruder sexually penetrating her, according to court documents. When she became alert, she startled the man and he fled, according to the complaint. Police said they discovered cut or missing screens on the ground floor, a partially open bathroom window, and a plastic patio side table placed underneath a kitchen window. Police said fingerprint impressions match Bloomington resident Davon Allen, now age 35, who is charged with burglary and criminal sexual conduct in the 1st degree. In a statement to police, Allen said the woman invited him in to the apartment and the sex was consensual. A hearing on the case is Sept. 1.

In another case this year, a Southwest High School student told staff and her parents she had non-consensual sex in May with another student while the two were in school, according to a police report. Minneapolis Public Schools declined to comment on the case, citing data privacy laws. Waisanen said the family is not moving forward with the case at this time, and she said there are conflicting stories about what occurred.

Jason Matlock, director of MPS Operational and Security Services, said sexual assault cases are rare in the schools. He said staff work closely with Minneapolis police when there is a direct allegation of sexual assault, and said social workers play a strong role in the investigation.

“We definitely make sure we’re supporting them as much as possible,” he said.

He said the district’s policy options include expulsion and schedule changes to avoid contact between students. Staff also look for any gaps in building security, he said.

“These kinds of cases are people who know each other,” he said, adding that it’s important for students to learn good social skills in relationships.

One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, according to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says it’s the most under-reported crime, with 63 percent of sexual assaults not reported to police, and only 12 percent of child sex abuse reported to authorities.

The Minneapolis City Council recently passed a resolution calling Aug. 17 “Break the Silence Day.” The I-35W bridge was lit in teal to honor the day. The city resolution states that silence protects the perpetrators of sexual violence, and says 97 percent receive no punishment for their crimes.

“By breaking the silence, we can begin to face the urgent truth that sexual violence surrounds us, and by facing this reality can we begin to change it,” states the resolution.

A new photography project by Alex Roob shows survivor portraits from the Twin Cities along with their stories. It’s inspired in part by the July 2015 cover of New York Magazine, which featured 35 of Bill Cosby’s accusers.

“It’s incredibly important to show survivors that they are not alone,” said Julia Bodin, a survivor herself.

Sarah Hunter, Haleigh, Julia Bodin and Lindsay Middlecamp listen to Bri Byram speak at Break the Silence Day.
Sarah Hunter, Haleigh, Julia Bodin and Lindsey Middlecamp listen to Bri Byram speak at Break the Silence Day.

At the Break the Silence event in August, some spoke of frustration with their chances at seeing justice. One man said he was assaulted at a homeless shelter, and police told him they wouldn’t investigate because they would never find the perpetrator. Another woman spoke of the excruciating process of testifying in detail about what happened to her.

Bri Byram spoke of being raped seven years ago. She said her attacker was sentenced to 90 days in jail and served less than 30. She said she became outraged when she recently learned he would no longer have to register and is pardoned from probation.

One woman told of sexual abuse by her father and by her longtime boyfriend, followed by two other incidents in 2014.

“I’m here because despite years of group and individual therapy, assisting other survivors in their healing, and in my dad’s case testifying in court, the peace that I’ve fought so hard for is fragile,” she said. “My sense of safety in the world crumbles from the smallest comment from someone who supports rape culture. In my mind, if good, kind decent men have twisted ideas about what constitutes sexual assault, then what happens when I come across someone who isn’t good, kind and decent? I’m terrified of being raped again, and yet I can’t shake the feeling that it’s inevitable.”

Liza Laborde spoke of telling her mother at age 12 that her boyfriend tried to kiss her, and her mother’s response was: “That’s just what boys do.”

“And in my mind that transferred to you let boys do what they want to do,” she said. “And I got my first boyfriend, and I let him do what he wanted to do. And my second, and my third. … I married a man who said: ‘I don’t believe rape is a thing. I mean, how can you have sex and not enjoy it?’”

Laborde offered the other attendees a hug, or a phone number to call at 2 a.m., or a coffee meetup.

“That rape will never go away, but happiness exists,” she said.

The Sexual Violence Center offers a 24-hour crisis line at 871-5111. Police ask survivors to call 911 or head straight to a hospital to preserve evidence, and not to shower or go to the bathroom first. Free rape kits can be completed up to five days after an assault, and it’s never too late to call police to make a report. For more information about Break the Silence Day, visit their Facebook page or website.

*Corrected address