BEMIDJI-In a show of solidarity, both survivors and supporters gathered Thursday to stand up against sexual and domestic violence.
As part of the worldwide event "Take Back the Night," dozens of advocates marched from the Paul and Babe statues through downtown Bemidji, and then back to their starting point. In addition to the march, the event also allowed those who came to speak about either their own experiences or more broadly about the need to address the issue.
"It's just really important that, as a community, we're representing the fact that we're not going to stand for violence any more," said Jen Hommerding of Support Within Reach, which organized the event. "It's important for us to let victims know that we're not going to put up with it and we're here for them."
While acknowledging that stories of assault can be painful, one of the marchers, Madilyn Oothoudt, encouraged people to speak about the issue. She said doing so is important, not only for personal healing, but also to address abuse that may be happening to others. She said abuse continues to happen if people don't speak up when they know something's wrong.
"Part of healing from that process is being able to talk about it," Oothoudt said during a short speech. "If you see something, say something."
Another marcher, Michael Pittman, spoke about how there's multiple ways to address the issue of sexual violence, one of which may be to simply ask someone if they're alright when they seem uncomfortable.
Although the event has been held previously in Bemidji, Thursday's event marked the third time it has been held consecutively since it began again. Local organizers planned the event in April to coincide with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Organizers estimated that approximately 70 people took part in the march, which was a considerable increase from last year.
"There were a lot of people here last year who really spread the word," Hommerding said.
During their march, advocates carried signs with messages such as "one out of four women will be raped in her lifetime" and "sexual violence is everyone's problem." Several drivers honked their car horns while passing by to support the marchers.
In addition to Support Within Reach, the march included collaboration from BSU, the Leech Lake Family Violence Prevention Program, the Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter and the Northwest Indian Community Development Center.
In addition to the march and the speeches, the annual event included a bonfire. Regardless of whether they were survivor or supporter, marchers were encouraged to write down something personal on paper and then place it in the fire.
"It's supposed to be healing," Hommerding said. "It's kind of a way of taking control back."