Center City: Women Organized Against Rape Rally with Hands Around City Hall

Volunteers and staff from WOAR capped Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a "Hands Around City Hall" event meant to commemorate survivors of sexual violence.

The month of April signifies more than just the beginning of spring to many. To those who have experienced or have been impacted by sexual assault, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

Philadelphia’s chapter of Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) spent April hosting a series of events on preventing sexual violence. Their largest event, Hands Around City Hall, was held at City Hall on April 29 to cap WOAR’s month of activism.

WOAR volunteer Rachel Coppen speaking at ‘Hands Around City Hall’. (Samantha Stewart/PN)

“Sexual violence thrives in a society rooted in systemic oppression,” said professor Omar Martinez, a member of the board of directors at WOAR and an adjunct professor at Temple University. “WOAR’s mission, as a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, is to eliminate all forms of sexual violence.”

Hands Around City Hall was an event meant to bring survivors together and raise awareness.

“Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted in this country,” WOAR volunteer Rachel Coppen said.

In the center courtyard at City Hall, WOAR members, allies and sexual assault survivors alike gathered to listen to a series of speakers on the dangers of sexual assault.

One of those speakers was Mayor Jim Kenney, who spoke out in support of WOAR’s mission.

“I implore to the people who think those awful things [regarding sexual assault], to think of your mother, your sister, or your grandmother,” Kenney said on stage. “WOAR has worked tirelessly for nearly 50 years to make sure victims of sexual violence are not alone, and we are grateful for all that you do.”

Kenney spoke passionately about the need to care for those who have survived sexual violence and to avoid stigma and shame.

Mayor Jim Kenney speaking at WOAR’s ‘Hands Around City Hall’ event. (Samantha Stewart/PN).

“I want to send a clear message to sexual assault survivors,” he said. “What happened was not your fault, and it did not occur because of what you were wearing, or where you happened to be at the time.”

WOAR has operated in Philadelphia since 1972. Starting as a small operation, WOAR’s original 20 members answered calls to the sexual assault hotline at the Philadelphia General Hospital. Now, the group has boomed into an organized force against sexual assault.

Martinez joined the board at WOAR in 2022, seeking an outlet for social justice. He assists in the research and development in the organization.

“In our research, we have identified the pervasiveness of sexual violence impacting sexual and gender minorities,” Martinez said. “According to a new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault.”

After the speakers took the stage and spoke out against assault, survivors joined hands and form a circle around the courtyard of City Hall. After joining hands, everyone stood together for a moment of silence.

“Today, we are here to honor survivors, hold them in our hearts, celebrate their strength and resilience, share in their grief, and marvel in their talents and love,” said Coppen, moments before the circle formed. “Now, we ask you to form a circle, so we may engage in our moment of solidarity.”

WOAR’s program booth. (Samantha Stewart/PN)

After the long pause, those holding hands were asked to speak the names of family, friends, or other victims of assault, and share their stories.

“[The] Hands Around City Hall event honors the courage of survivors,” Joanne Strauss, WOAR’s president, said. “This is WOAR’s way to commemorate Take Back The Night events in which survivors share their stories.”

WOAR continues to offer their popular outreach programs outside the month of April as well. According to Martinez, WOAR still operates the same 24 hour crisis hotline it did when it first began, operating all seven days a week, and it is the only organization in Pennsylvania to do so. 

“WOAR’s 24-Hour Crisis Hotline staff provides [ …] trauma-focused counseling, court accompaniment, and education and prevention services,” he said. “We have also extended our services and offer bilingual and bicultural therapy to survivors or loved ones.”

Alongside the hotline, WOAR offers a variety of different educational classes and resources for those looking to extend their knowledge on sexual assault violence, domestic abuse, and more. 

“They provide an opportunity for participants to learn about different prevention policies,” Strauss said. 

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to editor@philadelphianeighbors.com.

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