The rain started coming down as Donna Kelly shared a harrowing story of an assault that could’ve been.
It was the early ’70s, and a teenage Kelly was just getting out of her shift late one night at a Baskin Robbins. When she arrived at her car in the deserted parking lot, she noticed a man hiding in the backseat, ready to attack as soon as she got inside. She ran back to the ice cream shop and called the police, but by the time they arrived, the assailant was gone.
It’s an experience that still haunts Kelly decades later. But, she added, it could’ve been much worse.
“Imagine what it’s like for a woman who was raped in her own bed,” Kelly, a Special Victim’s Unit prosecutor at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, told a crowd assembled at the City and County Building Saturday afternoon. “That’s why we’re in this fight. The effect of trauma is very severe and very lasting.”
Kelly was one of several speakers who opened up about their experiences at the Walk of No Shame, a rally and march held Saturday. The event was held in conjunction with the international SlutWalk movement to raise awareness about sexual assault, with the organizers rallying against rape culture and offering an outlet for survivors.
“I’m a survivor myself. Most of the people involved are survivors or very strong allies,” Rachel Jensen, director of SlutWalk Salt Lake City, told reporters before the rally began. “We want to make sure that myself and other survivors know that they’re not to blame for what happened to them, and they can take back their own empowerment and autonomy.”
About 75 people gathered to hear speakers at the City and County Building. Then, braving intermittent showers and high winds, they waved signs and chanted during a march up State Street to the Capitol. Cars honked their support and some bystanders joined in amid chants of “Consent, consent, 100%!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, rape culture has got to go!”
According to the Utah Department of Health, one in three women will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives. Kelly said the justice system has made massive improvements since her close call back in the 1970s, with forensic nurses and victims’ advocates now offering crucial support for criminal investigations as well as emotional and logistical support for those pursuing charges against their assailants. Kelly also applauded Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, for carrying a bill through the Legislature in 2018 requiring law enforcement to process and submit rape kits for DNA testing within 30 days, bringing an end to months-long delays for suvivors who file charges when they are raped.
Romero, who spoke later in the day, told the crowd that for the upcoming general session, she’ll be focusing on a “Yes Means Yes” bill, centering around consent for junior high and high school students.
“When we think about sexual assault, we think about domestic violence, we think about human trafficking, it all has a common theme—it’s about power and control,” Romero said, explaining that marginalized peoples are too often blamed for what happened, when everyone should be held to account for disucssions of consent and personal boundaries. “I want to change that conversation, and the way we change that conversation is we have to start in our schools.”
Several survivors also stepped up to the mic at the Capitol to share their experiences. Their testimonies were raw and powerful, and their diverse perspectives and backgrounds underscored the fact that no two survivors are the same: While one woman said she felt greatly supported by the courts, other speakers described enduring repeated abuse for years only to be ignored by adults and brushed off by police.
Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, a journalist, mental health educator and advocate for sex workers’ rights, said ultimately it’s the individual’s choice about how they want to seek healing from trauma and closure for what they went through.
“You don’t have to pursue justice through the system for your healing process to be valid. Justice is whatever you want it to look like, whatever you consent to, whatever feels right to you,” she said. “It’s OK if you don’t always identify as a survivor. Some days you just need to allow yourself the space to feel broken.”