Runway empowers survivors of sexual violence

By Kimberly Chinchilla

East Los Angeles College Sexual Assault Awareness Violence Education Team (SAAVE) concluded a month of events aimed to raise awareness on sexual assault  with a runway on April 28.

The runway featured sexual assault survivors, advocates, professionals in the community of East Los Angeles and an art exhibit presenting an interactive photo, survivors’ written stories, and artwork.

The East Los Angeles Women’s Center had on display “Red Lips, Hoops On, Invincible” an art exhibit, and “Invincible: Who I am and what I wear does not justify sexual violence,” an empowering runway show for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and according to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, “is a time where advocates, survivors, their loved ones, and the community come together to talk openly about sexual violence to support survivors, increase knowledge and awareness, and identify strategies [along] with resources to prevent sexual violence.”

In 1976 the ELAWC was founded by Latina women leaders in the East Los Angeles community. This became the first bilingual rape hotline. It reached hundreds of survivors who did not previously have a voice or access to services.

Their mission is “to ensure that all women, girls and their families live in a place of safety, health, and personal well-being, free from violence and abuse, with equal access to necessary health services and social support, with an emphasis on Latino communities.” 

Rebeca M. Melendez, the program director, opened up the show by reminding the audience that though the event “may be colorful, fun, interactive, and may be even considered a celebratory event.

“But the truth of [their] work, is that 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men in the U.S will experience sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.” 

She continued, “sexual violence at its worst, is a cruel weapon of war, power and intimidation, and at its least is the complicit acceptance of normalization of sexually charged jokes, insults and innuendos directed towards others, especially women. 

Melendez emphasized that ELAWC’s message can only be one, and that is “sexual violence must stand and our collective work must be continued, because we know for certain to heal a survivor is to heal our community.”

Every woman that walked the runway had red lipstick and hoop earrings on, which is a symbol for their powerful campaign.

 “[It] serves as a reminder that: Who I am and what I wear does not justify sexual violence.” 

The idea of the Invincible Runway show was born from a suggestion of a dedicated ELAWC volunteer, Ashley Guereque, a stylist and graduate from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. 

Guereque styled every model to represent that anyone can be a survivor, in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. 

The courageous individuals that walked the runway either respond to sexual violence, are healing from sexual violence, or work each day to end sexual violence.

Each runway model chose a song. 

Every model had a picture and a motto projected in the background that they use when they are at home or when they simply feel beautiful.

As Melendez put it, “We are where fashion trends begin. Brave, fierce, magical, powerful, unique, faithful, fearless, focused, determined, unwavering, and yes, invincible women.” 

The art exhibit included paintings, hand-written stories of survivors, and other projects created by advocates on campus from both ELAC’s Women’s and Men’s Support Center and ELAWC.  

ELAWC raffled away three donations individually, including a bracelet and $250 hoop earrings. 

Sonia Rivera, who is nearing her 24th year working with ELAWC, closed the runway show by advising the audience on how to support ELAWC. 

By being there for survivors, ELAWC is a place where “your silence is heard, [ELAWC] are the ones that will stand by the survivors, [who] will listen, [and that will] be there, a reminder that [ELAWC] is the place.” 

Speaking up against violence is another way to support, because violence is “intersectional and it affects the fabric of our society.” 

You can also donate at elawc.org

The ELAWC offers services for survivors facing sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. 

Their confidential crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 585-6231. 

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