Alumna rallies support for survivors of sexual violence

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Emerson alumna Tori Bilcik organized a rally in support for sexual violence survivors. Cullen Granzen / Beacon Staff

By Parker Purifoy, Emerson '21

About 250 people gathered at City Hall Plaza Monday evening to demonstrate support for survivors of sexual violence.

Emerson alumna Tori Bilcik, ‘17 and Northeastern alumna Delia Harrington ‘12 organized the vigil specifically to show solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. Both Ford and Ramirez are women who have accused President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual misconduct.

The vigil, hosted in the shadow of Boston’s city hall, included a station where attendees could write letters of support for Ford and Ramirez along with Anita Hill—the woman who accused Clarence Thomas, George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, of sexual misconduct in 1991. Thomas is now the most senior member of the Supreme Court.

Over 10 speakers told their stories in City Hall Plaza including author, activist, and Emerson alumna, Jaclyn Friedman, ‘04. In her short speech, she spoke of the helplessness and hopelessness felt by survivors of sexual violence but urged those gathered to continue speaking up. In an interview, she said it was important for her to attend the event so she could put her voice out there and help others do the same.

“Sexual violence might seem like a given but so did the divine right of kings,” she said. “Anything that humans made can be changed. That’s why I keep showing up, and I hope you do too.”

Organizer Bilcik is a survivor of sexual violence as well. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Bilcik said she was raped in her home when she was 17 years old—by a musician she interviewed for a story. At the time, she was an aspiring music journalist. When she tried to talk to friends about it, she said they brushed it off and told her she should have expected it.

At the rally, Bilcik said the assault was not her first encounter with sexual harassment and probably would not be her last, but that her feelings of shame and guilt were consistent throughout her experiences.

“When we come forward, they try to name us and shame us into sitting down and shutting up, but we are done being silenced,” she said. “It is time for the perpetrators of violence to be held accountable for their actions.”

Bilcik now does communications work for nonprofits. She said in an interview she was vocal with sexual abuse issues throughout college. She connected with Harrington through a school assignment at Emerson, and they maintained a friendship through their common experiences and passions. In the past couple weeks, Bilcik said she and Harrington discussed the accusations against Kavanaugh and the conversations that were being sparked all over the country because of them.

“We weren’t seeing any events that focused specifically on elevating survivors, and we weren’t seeing any events in the Boston area,” Bilcik  said. “We thought this was a really important space that needed to be created, and we got to a point where we looked at each other and said ‘If it’s not going to be us then who are we waiting for?’”

Bilcik said she and Harrington wanted to create this space exclusively to support survivors and hear their stories.

“While political actions are great and people should be encouraged to call their senators to try to block the confirmation of Kavanaugh, I really want to make sure that we’re taking care of each other and the survivors that are coming forward,” Bilcik said.

Several speakers told tales of sexual violence they said they had never told before, including Javi Siddiqui, a mother to two young girls and an immigrant from Pakistan.

“I’ve got two girls, and I grew up in a culture and environment where you were told not to talk about it,” Siddiqui said. “I want them growing up knowing they have a voice and they won’t see that until I do it, so it was important for that.”

Ramirez’s allegations came out on Sept. 23. According to the New Yorker, two Democratic senators have already begun investigating the claims. Ford has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27.