Flash mob has them dancing

STEUBENVILLE – A flash mob dance Thursday on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse to protest the alleged rape of a teenage girl allegedly by city high school student-athletes and to raise awareness about violence against women worldwide was attended by a small, but upbeat, crowd.

The unusual sight of about 30 participants marking One Billion Rising’s V-Day event dancing on the courthouse steps attracted local media and others interested in the novelty of the event, while the demonstration coincided with other V-Day events worldwide, according to the organization.

However, Steubenville Thursday was the destination for several involved in the organization founded by Eve Enlser, activist and playwright of “The Vagina Monologues,” because of the notoriety of the alleged rape, according to Deb Lemire, event co-organizer and Cuyahoga Falls resident.

“My organization, Queen Bee Productions, did the first staging of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ in Ohio,” said Lemire. “We’ve been involved with V-Day for the past 15 years.”

Lemire said this was the 15th anniversary of the founding of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women. She added the flash mob was a way to attract the public’s attention in a way that was easy and popular.

“Flash mobs are something that’s happening all over the globe,” she said. “Steubenville is struggling with the rape case, and we’re hoping to bring positive energy and compassion. It’s difficult when something like this happens in your community, family or tribe.”

Steubenville has been in the media spotlight for the past several weeks because of the alleged rape, which allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12. Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale, and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville are slated to stand trial on March 13 for the alleged sexual assault of a 16-year-old Weirton girl. The case is being prosecuted by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and heard by visiting Judge Tom Lipps.

Attorneys for the defendants have denied the charges in court.

Thursday’s demonstration was a low-key affair, unlike three protest events at the courthouse organized by the Internet hactivist group Anonymous, the second of which drew national media attention and thousands of protesters.

Protesters Thursday listened to a pre-recorded monologue on violence against women, after which participants began the flash mob. A few males attended, some in Guy Fawkes masks, with one passing out roses to some of the women in the gathering. Except for Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who asked participants to make way for passers-by to enter the courthouse, the police presence was nonexistent for Thursday’s event.

Lemire said she’s had personal experience dealing with sexual abuse and its aftermath.

“It’s heartbreaking to reconcile a person you knew that perpetuates (abuse) and what you thought you knew about that person,” she said, adding often with sexual assault comes shame and denial. “We’re here to bring positive energy to the community that’s suffering and to do what has to be done. It’s tough.

“This young woman needs support, and the people responsible for (the alleged rape) need to be held accountable,” continued Lemire. “Everyone makes decisions that aren’t always awesome, but that doesn’t mean you can be assaulted.

“We hope Steubenville will rise and take care of its tribe. It doesn’t mean you try to make it go away.”

Quinn Tillson and Tanja Resch said they traveled from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to participate in the event. They said Steubenville struck them as a typical small town in Ohio.

“There wasn’t a V-Day event in Yellow Springs,” said Resch. “We came here specifically to protest rape culture.”

“(Steubenville) doesn’t stand out,” said Tillson, adding the city is no different than any smaller community anywhere. “That’s why it’s so important. It’s the same everywhere. But for (rape) there’s a price to be paid. Right is right everywhere.”

The V-Day movement has raised more than $90 million in funds for creation of more than 14,000 women’s anti-violence educational programs, safe houses and other activist events, according to organizers. One Billion Rising recalls a statistic that one in three women worldwide will be beaten or raped during her lifetime, and with the world’s population nearing 7 billion that equals 1 billion women, according to the organization. For information on One Billion Rising and V-Day, go to www.vday.org.

(Miller can be contacted at mmiller@heraldstaronline.com.)