More than 10 percent of girls have been physically forced to have intercourse, and 30 percent of women experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17. Those are difficult numbers to read, and even more difficult to hear personal stories.
Fox Valley Voices of Men held its 2018 Call to Action program in Appleton this morning, bringing those difficult conversations table-side to inspire men and boys to take action to be part of the solution — often in small, everyday ways.
More than 1,000 people attended, including about 300 young men from local high schools. Dozens of of businesses, nonprofits and schools live-streamed the event.
Voices of Men has a mission of helping end sexual assault and domestic violence, which is a much bigger, uglier problem than most people realize.
“Perpetrators sometimes come from the least expected places. We speak from experience. It happened to us,” said Tom Berkedal, president of Fox Valley Voices of Men. Berkedal, along with vice president Tony Gonzalez, stood together with the organization’s entire leadership team in a show of solidarity.
Three months ago, the team learned that the organization’s one paid employee was accused by two women of sexual harassment. The employee has since resigned, and the organization, it’s volunteers and the women are learning to heal.
“It’s a difficult time for those who care about Voices of Men, and it reminds us more than ever of the critical nature of our work,” Gonzalez said.
Voices of Men partners with the Fox Valley’s sexual assault and domestic violence organizations Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, Reach Counseling and Sexual Assault Crisis Center to reach students in our school districts.
“Among other things, we help empower them and recognize how in our culture in media and games, we have objectified women,” says Elizabeth Van Abel, prevention education manager for Reach.
A $5,000 Spark Grant from the Community Foundation’s Bright Idea Fund helped fund the program’s presentations at area middle schools and at today’s event with featured speaker and poet Guante, and guest Chelsea Bongert, whose compelling story of her own journey of healing highlighted the ways our culture often blames sexual assault victims.
The Appleton math teacher and mother of three has shared her story for the past several years in her district, and this week she shared at Appleton middle schools as well as Neenah High School. You can listen to her story here: