October 3, 2008 in Opinion

Our View: Harmia’s testimony empowers other rape victims

 

Call for Help

 Eastern Washington victims of sexual assault can get help by calling the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma Response Center, 24-hour crisis line at (509) 624-7273.

 In North Idaho, call the Coeur d’Alene Women’s Center 24-hour crisis line at (208) 661-2522.

Silence can seem like the best response when you are a woman who has been raped. If you keep quiet, perhaps the pain will lessen. If you talk, then you must remember, and if you remember, then you must feel the emotions – the terror, the rage, the shame. And some people might judge, too. Did you put yourself in harm’s way? Could you have screamed louder, fought harder?

This is why some women, still, keep the secret. Julie Harmia, a Yakima schoolteacher, is not into secret-keeping. On Oct. 23, 1980, she stepped off the bus from work and was raped by Kevin Coe on Spokane’s South Hill. Though Coe was charged with several rapes, only the conviction in Harmia’s case withstood appeals.

Harmia took the stand Tuesday in Coe’s civil commitment trial in Spokane County Superior Court. She recounted the terrifying events of 28 years ago. Rape victims are not usually identified in news stories, but Harmia waived the usual protocol and consented to be quoted. She also allowed her photo to be taken.

Other alleged victims of Coe spoke up in the courtroom this week, too. Harmia and the other women are to be commended for the courage it takes to break silence.

By doing so, they send the message that shame belongs to the perpetrator, not the victim. Retelling their stories educates society that rape is an act of violence and control, and not a sex act. Rape victims who tell their stories make it easier for future rape victims to tell their stories to law enforcement officers, to crisis line workers, to judges and juries.

A decade ago, Nancy Venable Raine wrote “After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back.” On her Web site, she describes the healing that followed the publication of her book:

“As different as our experiences and lives may be, we survivors share the challenges of living with rape, day-by-day. We know the way society’s ignorance can derail us. We are living with experiences that those who have been spared our suffering think is impossible to bear. Yet, we bear it. Every day. Each of us feels the isolation of being a rape survivor, but I have discovered that we are part of a healing community. We are there for each other, even if we never speak, never meet. We know what others fear to imagine – and we are still here, living our many lives.”

The women testifying in the Coe case are part of this healing community. By breaking silence about the darkest moments of their lives, they shed light on the consequences of this brutal act, thereby helping other victims, story by

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