Rally helps survivor 'Break the Silence' about sexual assault in Willmar
WILLMAR — It's a moving moment when you hear 40 people chanting "We believe her" and you know they're chanting for you.
A rally in support of victims of sexual assault brought more than a few tears from Willmar native Emily Schlecht. Schlecht told her story at a Break the Silence rally in front of the Kandiyohi County Courthouse Sunday afternoon in Willmar.
Schlecht's story is a hard one to hear, a story of a sexual assault at a New Year's Eve party while she was unconscious. Friends later told her what had happened, she said, and then photos and videos were posted on social media sites. She had considered the alleged perpetrator a friend.
After authorities declined to file charges in the case, she said, she continued her effort to find justice. "I tried to seek help from so many people, and my voice is not heard."
Her efforts to find justice have caused friends and family to withdraw their support, she said. "It's hard to go through something all alone."
Schlecht singled out State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, as someone who tried to help.
Baker said Sunday afternoon that he had been glad to try to help Schlecht. "She was a young woman who felt extremely violated," he said. When she was contacted in a letter and not by phone to inform her there would be no charges for lack of evidence, he said, "she felt almost violated twice."
Baker said he helped arrange a meeting with Willmar Police officials, who listened to her story and decided to have her rape kit processed and reopen the case. He had also introduced her to some legislators who work on issues related to sexual assault.
Baker said he knew Schlecht was angry at the process. "She's just a real passionate young lady (who) wants to do good with something that was bad that happened to her," he said.
Schlecht now works as an advocate for victims of sexual assault in northwestern Minnesota.
Her case is now being reviewed by the Kandiyohi County Attorney's Office.
There were few dry eyes in the sympathetic crowd as Schlecht told her story. She said she felt no one took her seriously while her alleged attacker went free.
Before she started speaking, she told the group, "I apologize, I'm going to cry." A woman called out, "That's OK, we've got hugs."
And they did. Friends and strangers alike approached her after the talk to offer hugs. Some briefly shared their own stories.
A group of more than a dozen people who had driven in from Worthington gathered around her for a group hug. The group was made up of mostly high school students, and she thanked them for coming to the rally and praised their interest in the issue.
Sometimes, "it takes more strength than I ever knew I had," Schlecht said, but she is fighting to improve the system for others who come forward in the future.
Katie Russell of Minneapolis came out to the rally to show support. She's told her own story at a Break the Silence rally in Minneapolis, she said.
"In Minneapolis, there's a lot more support," she said. "I think it's important for women from Minneapolis to go outside their comfort zone, out to these women who might not have as much help around them."
Break the Silence is an advocacy group for survivors of sexual violence which strives to hold perpetrators accountable. The group was founded by Sarah Super, who is also a rape survivor.
Super introduced Schlecht, and after she spoke repeated what the group tells its speakers: You are strong; you are courageous; you are inspiring.
Super pointed out that most perpetrators walk free, and that's why it's important for survivors to continue to speak out. "We are here to stand with you and to highlight the failures of this so-called justice system," Super said to Schlecht.
It's important to speak out to try to stop repeat offenders who go unpunished, Super said, adding, "These people don't just do it once."
The chants rose again — "Who do we believe? We believe her."