Cheyenne Shaffer and I wrote this story for Philadelphia Neighborhoods in the summer. West Philadelphia has a high concentration of creative and entrepreneurial people, due to the many college and affordable rent in the area.
Everyone Organized Against Rape
The offices of Women Organized Against Rape are quiet. Polite signage around the waiting room requests that doors be shut with care and cell phones should not be used. The staff speaks in soft, polite tones and there are white noise machines to keep conversation during counseling sessions from being overheard. WOAR offers private and group counseling to adults (male and female), teens, LGBTQ and child survivors of sexual assault and abuse, so the need for privacy and a feeling of safety is of utmost importance.
“You know you’re my fourth interview today? It’s not even noon!” WOAR’s Executive Director Carole Johnson smiles as she says it. The phone ringing, her stacked schedule and the media attention all means that WOAR is doing what it’s supposed to do: provide as much support as possible to sexual assault survivors every step of their way. WOAR’S services include: court and medical accompaniment, counseling and support for survivors and their loved ones, and education and outreach to campuses, workplaces and community groups and awareness-raising events.
Their next big event is the 9th annual Take It All Back walk on April 26th. April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. One of the pivotal organizers of the event and WOAR counselor Alea Cummings said, “The name is a reference to the Take Back the Night. We wanted to do something like that, but Take It All Back is intended to be more inclusive, and to break down the myth that sexual assaults only happen at night. This event is for everyone. We didn’t want anyone to think, ‘It didn’t happen to me at night, I must not count.’”
Whereas most days at WOAR are quiet, Take It All Back is about making noise. “Our event is survivor-centric. We sing, we chant, we carry signs, there’s a drumline. When we get to the Independence Visitor’s Center, there’s a SPEAK OUT where survivors tell their stories, read poems, just open up. We’ll also have food and this year we’will have Zumba breaks. It can get pretty intense and we want to encourage healthy coping.”
Women Organized Against Rape was founded in 1971 as one of the first rape crisis centers in the U.S. After taking early retirement from her position as HR Director at AT&T, Carole came to WOAR, first as a volunteer, then gradually moved up to Executive Assistant in 1990. Alea came to WOAR as a graduate intern 2011 to May of 2013 and then returned as a counselor in June of 2013. Continue reading