Rachel Perkins sat on a stool in Craig High School’s Small Auditorium, her pink dress bright and flowing and her voice serene.
With about 40 high school girls and female mentors scattered throughout the audience Saturday morning, Perkins, a graduate of Parker High School, calmly told the story of what she calls the worst night of her life.
“I want to paint a clear picture of my college experience, which were some of the hardest years of my life,” she said.
In her story, Perkins said she was sitting on a male friend’s bed in a college dorm, having had a little too much drink.
Suddenly, the friend started kissing her, she said.
“I pulled away from him, and I told him that we were only friends, and I reminded him that he had a girlfriend,” Perkins said. “He did not care. He kept kissing me and kissing me. In my mind, I began to panic.”
Perkins paused, and a heavy silence fell over the auditorium.
“This immense feeling of not having any control came over my body,” Perkins said. “The next thing I know, his hands were touching me in places that I did not want to be touched. I was scared. I was in pain. I was sad. I was angry. And I was drunk.”
For the junior and senior girls who were present in the auditorium for the event called Stay Safe Workshop, Craig High School Principal Alison Bjoin said Perkins’ story makes sexual assault real.
But the girls weren’t at the workshop just to learn about sexual assault. Bjoin said they were there to be empowered and to learn “how can you empower yourself in any situation.”
“I hope that what they’re learning today gives them resources for life beyond Craig High School,” Bjoin said. “These are really things you need to think about and talk about. And sadly, kind of ready yourself for.”
The workshop also included sessions on sexual harassment in the work place, financial safety and identity theft, tenants’ rights for new renters, and mental health after high school.
In one event, current and former Janesville Police officers demonstrated self-defense training.
Brian Donohoue, a Janesville School District school safety consultant and former Janesville officer, taught the event’s attendees how to adopt “the warning stance” for potential attacks.
“There is no wrong time to go into warning stance,” he said.
If a sketchy situation is happening, Donohoue told the group that eye contact “just might tip the scales. The bad guy doesn’t want to be caught and identified.”
Donohoue also taught the group several attack moves, including kicks and ways to destabilize a potential offender, reminding the group to always “verbalize” when attacking.
“This is a physical attack of your body,” Donohoue said. “We want people to call 911. We want someone doing something.”
Each girl attending the event was accompanied by an adult woman. Some brought their mother; others brought a mentor figure. Bjoin said this element was critical to the event.
“I hope today spurs that conversation between mother and daughter, female and student,” Bjoin said. “There’s the opportunity to open the door for further communication.”
Echoing Bjoin, Perkins said communication is imperative when addressing sexual assault. Sharing her story helps her heal, she said, and in order to end sexual violence, “we have to talk about it.”
That means reporting assaults when they happen, Perkins said.
“When you report your sexual assault or sexual harassment, it’s kind of like owning what happened to you … taking that step to becoming a survivor and not letting that perpetrator have any other victims,” Perkins told the crowd.
“Do not ever be afraid to say ‘No.’ You do not need to do anything for anyone if you do not feel like it. You are your own person, and your safety is the only thing that matters. It’s okay to be selfish. You are the only thing that matters.”