With three to a table, people at a Mujeres in Action gathering on Friday designed color-coded shirts signifying different aspects of sexual assault.
Ruby Clark, 19, painted an orange shirt, which represents those who are survivors of sexual assault and rape as a child. As a sexual assault victim herself, Clark’s shirt read, “Go out of your fears to create space for your dreams” in Spanish.
“This is important to me, because I’m one of the women who were sexually assaulted, and it’s something that we should all be talking about until it’s stopped,” Clark said.
Mujeres in Action, the Latinx-centered organization that offers assault and domestic violence resources, hosted the Clothesline Project as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
MIA has opened a newly renovated office space, which houses its domestic abuse and sexual assault hotlines as well.
Since 2005, Sexual Assault Awareness Month highlights the ongoing issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and other related issues.
One in three female homicide victims are killed by their former or current partners, while one in four men will experience physical violence by an intimate partner, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a nonprofit group combating sexual assault. Only five out of 1,000 reported perpetrators serve time for the sexual assault that is committed. According to RAINN, 97% of sexual assault perpetrators will walk free.
Arturo Novoa, the advocate counselor for the mind and heart at Mujeres in Action, believes easygoing events like the one Friday can help break the ice on the uncomfortable topics of sexual violence and assault.
Conversations could be heard about rusty Spanish or the day’s lunch, then leading to healthy discussions about past trauma.
“It’s ‘pretend like it didn’t happen’ or ‘be strong,’ but it’s not about that; it’s about being open and vulnerable,” he said. “If you don’t have that open conversation about these things, it continues to be perpetuated in the next generation. I’m here to make a stop to that; no more intergenerational trauma.”
As a man, Novoa notes that it’s his job to create space and safety for women who could have just left abusive relationships. He is MIA’s second male advocate and has been in his role since February. Novoa’s role represents the “mente y corazon,” the mental and emotional aspects that need to be assessed while recovering and healing from sexual assault.
“I’m here to give them back that power and control that they lost throughout their trauma,” Novoa said. “It has been challenging at times, but the more I see our participants, the more they trust me and see me as support, as an ally.”
Marixza Ortiz, MIA’s Housing Advocate, painted a white shirt to honor those who have died from abuse. The flowers, she said, represent the blooming springtime and new beginnings, and honor the “sacrifice of their life.”
“I’m going to use the quote: ‘You’re not the woman who fell down but the one who rose up,’ ” she said. “I thought it would go good because spring gives us the inspiration to start up and rise again. Those who are not with us have paid a price, but I feel that those we’ve lost can still create change and save others.”
But Spokane’s housing crisis, which has shrank housing vacancy to only 1% in the past two years, thins the chance of escaping. Ortiz noted the “baby steps” that are necessary at first. In times where survivors have to find immediate resources, they may need to take smaller steps to reach safety.
Lack of an extended family support system or financial opportunities to move away can make housing availability for the Latinx community shrink even more. Other factors such as redlining and the racial and gender wage gap affect the abilities of people of color to find affordable housing.
“So with the survivors that we have, because we have the barriers of immigration, of not knowing how to drive … the housing epidemic then shrinks down again,” Ortiz said. “It’s part of the challenges we face when it comes to housing, especially in Spokane, but the other thing that we do is to empower them. If they can’t find a house, how can we help you build those skills to apply for a job or to get your license or learn how to use your cellphone?”
Groups with similar missions in eliminating sexual assault and domestic violence are the YWCA in Spokane, which also provides financial aid and therapy for those escaping violence. YWCA will continue to provide a 24-hour help hotline to assist those who are in need of immediate help throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Throughout the month, MIA will display the shirts at local businesses, including the Mexican restaurant De Leon’s and the supermarket La Michoacana. At the end of April, MIA will collect the shirts from local businesses and display them in their office. They plan to host more events throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month.