‘Standing Silent Witness’ demonstration raises awareness of sexual violence

Aim is to ‘create a culture of respect, equality and safety,’ eliminate sexual assault and abuse

GURNEE – As long as sexual assault and abuse continues, workers, survivors, volunteers and friends of the Gurnee-based Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center will be “standing silent witness” in protest.

A group of at least 30 people spent an hour April 23 at both of the center’s offices in Gurnee and Skokie silently sharing the personal stories of sexual assault and abuse through signs and T-shirts.

They presented relevant statistics, facts and artwork to stand in solidarity with survivors.

Held nationwide for the past two decades as a signature event during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Standing Silent Witness” aims to change the way the issue of sexual violence is thought and talked about, organizers said.

“It’s a visual demonstration of how survivors are silenced,” said Anna Lehner, director of development for the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center or ZCenter.

At each location, one designated person spoke and answered questions about the relevance of the event posed by those stopping or passing by.

The demonstration is one of numerous ways the center has worked to “create a culture of respect, equality and safety” and to eliminate sexual abuse and assault, organizers said.

Formed in 1982, the nonprofit ZCenter, https://zcenter.org, provides places where survivors of sexual violence can heal and aims to mobilize the community toward action. Services are available free of charge to all survivors.

A recently launched Superhero Campaign encourages ongoing gifts and donations to provide art therapy supplies, phone line access, self-care kits and counseling to the clients served by the center.

The center also has created a new “73 Seconds” podcast. The title represents the fact that every 73 seconds someone is sexually violated in the U.S., said Christine Berry, director of services for the ZCenter.

Beginning with its first episode in January, the podcast has covered a wide range of topics, all loosely tied to sexual violence. The most recent podcast featured the topic of human trafficking.

The center also has expanded prevention education services, Berry said, and often provides professional development training in the workplace on the issue of sexual harassment. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center’s services now are offered virtually.

All efforts, including the recent “Standing Silent Witness” event, are about raising awareness and ultimately eliminating sexual abuse and assault, organizers said.

“Sexual violence is something everyone knows about, but nobody really hears survivors,” Barry said. “One of the things we do by standing silent witness is really bring light to the fact survivors have been silenced.

“Events like these are designed to put this in the forefront of everyone’s minds. It’s really its own version of a pandemic we need to bring light to.”

With Sexual Awareness Month hosted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, organizations throughout the country are encouraged to take part in events such as Standing Silent Witness throughout the month.

Illinois’ 32 rape crisis centers participate in the national movement.

That means at least thousands of people are standing silent witness in solidarity with survivors, Lehner said.

The Gurnee event included a representative from the newly created LGBTQ+ Center Lake County, https://lgbtqcenterlakecounty.com, and other allies and friends of both the ZCenter and survivors, she said.

“It’s really just showing solidarity, strength in numbers … so people don’t feel alone,” she said.