Mt. Graham Safe House marches to bring awareness to sexual assault and harassment

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Alexa Dominguez and Avi Fajardo help lead the way during the Mt. Graham Safe House’s Take Action Against Sexual Assault March on Tuesday.

SAFFORD – The young and the not-so-young-anymore joined forces Tuesday as the Mt. Graham Safe House sponsored its Take Action Against Sexual Assault March on Tuesday.

Representatives from the Safe House and marchers met up at the Bashas’ parking lot and marched along U.S. Highway 70 to JD’s Grill House and back, carrying signs and waving to traffic as it passed.

Mt. Graham Safe House Executive Director Jeanette Aston told the Gila Herald that the purpose of the march was to help spread the word about how prevalent the issue of sexual assault is in the community and to assist victims.

“We just want to spread awareness about sexual abuse and make other survivors in this area know that they’re not alone and that they can come to the Safe House to seek help,” Aston said.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Serena Merita, Avi Fajardo, and Alexa Dominguez show their support.

The march is part of the #MeToo Movement, according to Aston. Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo Movement in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing. The movement has gained numerous supporters in the last year after scandals of sexual harassment and sexual assault in various businesses have rocked the country. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Mt. Graham Safe House representative Sherry Cluff sports her sign.

“The #MeToo Movement is here too,” Aston said. “Sexual assault and sexual harassment are here, too, just like it is everywhere else. So, we want to give our support and let people who are victims know that they’re not alone. There are other people out there who care.”

Abuse survivor Cheryl Post brought her two boys to join the march with her. She said she believed it was important to be a part of the march.

“Being a victim of domestic abuse and violence and things like that as a child, I definitely want to support (the Safe House),” Post said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Mt. Graham Safe House representative Sherry Cluff said sexual assault and harassment in Graham County is getting worse and she hoped the march will shine a light on the problem.

“Maybe it will bring awareness to other people,” she said. “Because we really need to get it stopped.”

Several youths also marched with the group, including 12-year-old Serena Merita, who carried a sign that read “no means no.”

“Make sure no means no and accept it and respect it,” Merita said.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Felicia Padilla, left, and Viola Garza show off the shirts for sale.

The group also had teal #MeToo T-shirts for sale at the event for $20 each. The shirts are still available and can be purchased at the Safe House. Proceeds from the T-shirts go to the Safe House’s sexual assault program.

According to the #MeToo Movement’s website, 17,700,000 women have reported sexual assault since 1998. Aston said Graham County also suffers from a high number of sexual assault cases against women but that the number is actually higher than some perceive because a great number of the cases never get reported to police.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Marchers make their way down the highway.

“I think we have really bad numbers in Graham County,” Aston said. “We’ve been surveying the people who come through here for any type of sexual violence they’ve experienced and the numbers have been about 75 percent.”

The Mt. Graham Safe House was formed in 1995 to provide short-term emergency housing to victims of domestic violence and their children. Advocacy services were then added to provide service to both victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Those who wish to donate to the Mt. Graham Safe House can do so by clicking here.