More than 60 community members, survivors and elected representatives gathered in the courtyard of the Lompoc Civic Center Plaza on Saturday morning to advance the campaign against sexual and domestic violence against women.

Billed as the largest mass action to address violence against women, "1 Billion Rising," which is now in its third year, raises awareness of how Santa Barbara County residents can combat violence against women in their own community, said Ann McCarty, executive director for the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center.

"This is a global action, but we need to think locally about how we're addressing sexual assault and violence against women and girls. One [case] is too many," she said.

At a time when the "Me Too" and "Times Up" movements have pushed sexual assault and abuse to the forefront of the nation's collective consciousness, Saturday's rally demonstrated to survivors of violence or abuse that the community stands in solidarity with them. Representatives from county and community agencies attended the event, including Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl, who kicked off the rally by declaring Feb. 10, 2018, as "1 Billion Rising" day. 

"I wish that we did not have to have events like this," he told the crowd. "I wish that our society was more civilized; unfortunately, we're not."

Lingl expressed his gratitude to the organizers and participants, stressing the importance to be engaged and informed on the issue. Calls to the North County Rape Crisis Center have jumped 25 percent over the last 12 months, he said, suggesting that the community is not "winning the war" on violence against women.

"Violence against women does not distinguish against class, age or location," Lingl said. "Trafficking of women and children is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world."

Though the event served to highlight the historical mistreatment and abuse of women, McCarty called on men to engage in the conversation, learn from female survivors and attempt to unify against the cause.

"There's a shift in consciousness in men when it comes to violence and abuse," she said. "We know abuse happens to men, too. We need them to be on our side, stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' Having all these different groups means we're not alone in the fight."

Nestled between three tables at Saturday's rally, Yvette Ledesma guided participants in a rock painting activity. Ledesma, founder of Lompoc Rocks, a community organization aimed at spreading positive and affirming messages through painted rocks, said they would be placed around Lompoc or given to survivors of abuse or assault.

"Everyday affirmations are not just important, they're effective," Ledesma explained. "People need to know that there's support for them and that they're not alone. If someone finds a rock and it speaks to them, that's awesome. It's a random gesture that will brighten their day."

Human trafficking and crisis counselor Daisy Cortes called art an important part of the rally, extolling its potentially liberating and unifying properties. 

"We have the table so that anyone can express themselves and unite as one," Cortes said, pointing to a series of painted handprints on large sheets of white paper. "We use the handprint as a voice ... to show that there's an army behind everyone. We're all united — if I can overcome this, then we all can."

Drawn by the hands-on nature of the activity, children flocked to Cortes' handprint station and Ledesma's rock painting workshop. Twelve-year-old Sidney Daniels said she didn't know why her counselors at the United Boys & Girls Club of Lompoc brought her to the rally, but after learning the significance behind the rocks and handprints, she understood.

"Some people are too scared to speak up. We need to start speaking up for them — we need to be their voice. It doesn't have to be this way."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga



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