Sex-abuse sur­vivors hope New York rally in­vites

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Lau­ren Cook NEW YORK TIMES

Two New York­ers brought to­gether by the vi­ral #MeToo hash­tag have been plan­ning a Man­hat­tan rally in sup­port of sex abuse sur­vivors, yet they met faceto-face for the first time less than 10 days be­fore the event.

Connie Vasquez and An­n­marie Haubert had only known each other as “that lit­tle cir­cle that I see on Face­book,” for the bet­ter part of a month, but as they sat in amNewYork’s of­fice on Fri­day, it ap­peared as if the two had been friends for years.

It was the first time the women had met in per­son de­spite what they de­scribed as a nearly 24/7 plan­ning process for their la­bor of love: #MeTooRal­lyN YC, set to be held Satur­day in Colum­bus Cir­cle.

On the sur­face, Vasquez – a 57-yearold lawyer who lives in up­per Man­hat­tan – and Haubert – a 24-year-old EMT prac­ti­cal skills in­struc­tor liv­ing in Mid­dle Vil­lage – couldn’t be any more dif­fer­ent from each other. It was their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of sex­ual abuse and shared need to do more for oth­ers who have suf­fered that united them un­der a com­mon cause.

“It started with a tweet that I sent out. I saw the Twit­ter mo­ment for the march in L.A. and I tweeted some­thing out . . . about how I wished that I had some­thing like that here,” Haubert re­called. “Connie saw that tweet and replied to me, say­ing that she was try­ing to do some­thing like that in New York, ask­ing if I wanted to part­ner with her. And from there, this was born.”

Vasquez and Haubert are sex­ual abuse sur­vivors, both en­dur­ing trauma in their youths but decades apart, and al­though their in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent they shared a com­mon theme.

“We have so many dif­fer­ences and lit­tle things that make our sto­ries dif­fer­ent, but the one thing, that it wasn’t talked about enough, is what brought us to­gether,” Haubert said.

Planned al­most ex­clu­sively through Twit­ter DMs and Face­book Mes­sen­ger, Haubert and Vasquez have spent weeks or­ga­niz­ing #MeTooRal­lyNYC. The two barely even spoke over the phone, choos­ing in­stead to send late-night mes­sages and fire off emails dur­ing lunch breaks.

So when Vasquez and Haubert met for the first time, emo­tions ran high.

“Now, meet­ing you in per­son, this is some­thing in­cred­i­ble that we’re do­ing,” Haubert said. “We’re dif­fer­ent ages, dif­fer­ent life­styles, dif­fer­ent jobs, and we just have this one thing that bonds us to­gether and that’s be­ing sur­vivors.”

The hope, ac­cord­ing to Vasquez, is that peo­ple who at­tend the rally ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing sim­i­lar to her first meet­ing with Haubert: “That there’s this kin­ship, there’s that ‘I see you’” mo­ment.

#MeTooRal­lyNYC aims to ac­tu­al­ize the mes­sage of the on­line move­ment in the streets of New York City by bring­ing to­gether sur­vivors to show the sheer num­ber of peo­ple who have been sex­u­ally abused.

Rape re­ports across New York City in­creased by more than 15 per­cent in Novem­ber when com­pared with the same month in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the NYPD. So far this year, 285 peo­ple re­ported a rape that oc­curred last year or ear­lier – up from 255 peo­ple mak­ing those types of re­ports in 2016, Chief of De­tec­tives Robert Boyce added.

“I don’t want to have this rally of vic­tims. The in­tent is, very much for me, there’s strength in num­bers and look around you and look how many of us there are and we have sur­vived and this is re­ally a heal­ing op­por­tu­nity,” Vasquez added. “That’s re­ally what’s im­por­tant for me in this.”

It was equally im­por­tant for them as or­ga­niz­ers to ac­knowl­edge Tarana Burke and the roots of #MeToo, she added.

“[Burke’s] whole fo­cus has been bring­ing in marginal­ized in­di­vid­u­als – I don’t even want to say just women – in­di­vid­u­als of color,” Vasquez said, adding that they had reached out to Burke out of re­spect for her be­ing the “gen­e­sis” of the “me too” move­ment, but hadn’t heard back.

Long be­fore hash­tags were com­mon­place on so­cial me­dia, Burke cre­ated a pro­gram to help young women of color who are vic­tims of sex­ual abuse through her non­profit Just Be Inc., which was launched in 2006. The pro­gram, ti­tled “me too,” was in­spired by a real-life ex­pe­ri­ence Burke had with a young girl who con­fided that she had been sex­u­ally abused, Burke says on her web­site.

About a decade later, amid a firestorm of back­lash as the sex­ual as­sault scan­dal in­volv­ing Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein un­folded, the hash­tag #MeToo was brought into the spot­light by Alyssa Mi­lano.

The ac­tress has been vo­cal about how Hol­ly­wood treats women in the in­dus­try since the orig­i­nal New York Times ar­ti­cle on the We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions was pub­lished on Oct. 5.

Mi­lano’s tweet urg­ing vic­tims of sex­ual abuse to share their sto­ries and show their sol­i­dar­ity un­der the hash­tag #MeToo quickly went vi­ral. It re­ceived nearly 40,000 replies and 30,000 likes in less than 24 hours.

The hash­tag spread to other so­cial me­dia sites as well. #MeToo was shared in more than 12 mil­lion Face­book posts and re­ac­tions within the first 24 hours, ac­cord­ing to a CBS News and The As­so­ci­ated Press re­port.

“You’ve got Tarana Burke, who has been work­ing her fanny off for 10 years,” try­ing to put marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties in the fore­front of these is­sues, Vasquez said. “I get all of that.”

The pair has worked dili­gently to make the rally as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble, Vasquez added, lin­ing up a host of speak­ers from lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing NOW-NYC pres­i­dent So­nia Os­so­rio and Pro­tect NY Kids founder Gary Green­berg. Time mag­a­zine on Wed­nes­day named “The Si­lence Break­ers,” in­clud­ing the #MeToo move­ment, as its Per­son of the Year for 2017 -- a move that Vasquez and Haubert said helps val­i­date their work in speak­ing out against sex­ual abuse.

“We feel Time handed us back a part of some­thing that was stolen from us; some­thing we’ve fought so hard to re­claim; some­thing we’ve wres­tled demons over; some­thing we’ve wanted to scream ev­ery time we see re­ports of peo­ple ques­tion­ing why we wait so long to speak,” the pair said in a joint state­ment on Wed­nes­day.

“Time handed us a big­ger mega­phone and a big­ger plat­form to cat­a­pult our voices. We are now seen, heard, and be­lieved as never be­fore. It is all of us and we are #si­lence­break­ers.”

So far, the #MeTooRal­lyNYC Face­book page lists over 500 peo­ple who plan to at­tend, and more than 3,000 have ex­pressed in­ter­est.

Nei­ther woman has ever or­ga­nized a rally be­fore, which they both de­scribed to be “frus­trat­ing” and “em­pow­er­ing.”

“I feel like I am help­ing other peo­ple be­cause if this [move­ment] was some­thing that hap­pened 10 years ago, I may not have kept my mouth shut when I was younger,” Haubert added.

“Connie and I putting this rally to­gether and get­ting the word out there, it can help some­body who is 14 now. It can help so many peo­ple and that’s em­pow­er­ing for me.”

Vasquez and Haubert in­sisted, how­ever, that vic­tims who are not ready to make them­selves vul­ner­a­ble by tak­ing part in the rally should not feel forced to do so.

“We want to all stand to­gether in sol­i­dar­ity, but if you’re not ready to speak about what hap­pened, you’re not be­ing forced to,” Haubert said. “This is the end of you be­ing forced. So, we will stand there and we will rally for you.”

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