With red balloons bouncing, a group danced in Buckley Park Tuesday afternoon to raise awareness about sexual assault.
On each balloon, participants wrote what or who motivated them to come.
Taylor Cook wrote, “I was once a victim; now I am a victor.”
The event was part of the One Billion Rising campaign started in 2012. Every year on Valentine’s Day, public dances are held to recognize the 1 billion women, or about 1 in 3 worldwide, who are beaten or raped during their lifetime and to celebrate those who survive.
“We need to remember we’re human. We’re alive, and life is worth it,” said Maura Doherty-Demko, executive director of Sexual Assault Services Organization in Durango, which organized the gathering.
Cook, who was raped in high school and spoke about it for the first time a year later in a high school gym class, focused on sexual assault prevention. She told her classmates not to joke about rape because they might be sitting next to someone who had experienced it, she said in an interview.
She plans to get a doctorate in psychology so she can return to the Navajo Nation, where she grew up, to work in child psychology.
She wants to work to make sex education less taboo so sexual assault can be addressed. She is taking a year off from her studies at Fort Lewis College, but she will return as a senior.
“It’s a huge epidemic on my reservation,” she said.
She was accompanied by her boyfriend, Tokeya Waci U Richardson from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He came to support her and the baby they are expecting.
“I wouldn’t want it to happen to my daughter,” he said, noting that he also would want his son to be respectful of women. They aren’t sure if the baby is a boy or a girl.
Speakers at the event recognized communities in greater risk of abuse and assault, including Native American women, those with disabilities and those from immigrant communities.
“It’s our responsibility to remind people they are powerful, and they are not alone,” said Hanna De Salvo. She works for the Southwest Center for Independence, a nonprofit group focused on the civil rights and self-determination of those with disabilities.
About 83 percent of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, she said.
Those with disabilities also are likely to stay with their abusers longer, she said.
To help those who have been assaulted, SASO runs a crisis hotline, and in 2016, 200 calls were fielded, said Melody Baker, cultural outreach coordinator for the nonprofit. Last year, SASO also assisted with 50 reports to law enforcement, she said.