The Dalles — A proclamation naming April “Sexual Assault Action Month,” an initiative designed to help end sexual violence against women and girls in local communities, was approved by the City of The Dalles in March after portions of the proclamation language were removed.

At the meeting, Councilor Scott Randall expressed his objection to some of the language of the proclamation, specifically the phrase “by challenging a culture of systemic oppression” in paragraph 4 and the phrase “systemic oppression the root cause of all violence and abuse” in paragraph six.

Randall made a motion that the proclamation be passed with the two phrases removed. “If we remove those phrases, it still has the message. I would ask those particular phrases are removed,” he said. “I think they are partisan, and detract from the message.” Councilor Rob Runyon seconded the motion.

In an email circulated to the council prior to the meeting, Randall wrote, “I think these phrases are politically charged, and only serve to drag us into a larger, ongoing national debate that will distract us from overseeing the affairs of the city. I have spoken with Mayor Mays this morning, and we agreed that communicating these concerns to the rest of the council could possibly resolve the issue ahead of tonight’s meeting.”

In discussion of the proposed amendment to the proclamation, Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss said she heard what councilors Randall and Runyon were saying. “Just another point view from a woman’s perspective — rape and sexual violence is really about control. What we are really talking about here is systemic oppression against women, that makes it okay. We always have trainings about how women can avoid being raped — how they can change the way they dress, they can change how they act. But we don’t have classes on how men should not rape.

“I think that is the point of the proclamation — trying to bring more awareness of that (rape) culture.” The proclamation was not related to the current national discussion on race, as seemed to be suggested in Randall’s email, she added.

The proclamation, with the two phrases removed, passed with Randall, Runyon and Timothy McGlothlin voting in favor, Long-Curtiss against and Council Dan Richardson abstaining because he had not had time to review the issues raised by Randall’s email, which was circulated the morning of the council meeting on March 22. The email was released publicly as part of the meeting minutes April 1.

Two representatives from HAVEN from Domestic and Sexual Violence of the Columbia River Gorge, based in The Dalles, then spoke.

Cassie Chenowith, an empowerment project facilitator and Luz Guevara, a HAVEN advocate for those impacted by sexual violence, said domestic and sexual violence impacted many girls and women in the Gorge.

“HAVEN promotes initiatives such as Sexual Assault Action month that are meant to address sexual violence in our communities, with the hope that we will one day prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place,” said Guevara. Such a change requires a shift in the cultural attitude regarding such violence, she said, and providing strategies to stop the violence from happening.

Chenowith noted the campaign began in 2001, at which time it focused on building awareness of sexual violence in communities by sharing the experiences of sexual violence victims and survivors. More recently, the campaign has focused more heavily on prevention measures to stop sexual violence from happening in communities, workplaces and college campuses, she told the council.

“These campaigns encourage individuals and communities to engage in preventing sexual assault by changing behaviors and promoting health relationship skill,” she explained.

Guevara noted that sexual violence and battery has long-term impacts on victims’ physical, mental and financial health, “particularly among marginalized or historically misrepresented or under-represented communities,” she said. “It is important that our communities be empowered to speak out against these harmful actions and take tangible steps to stop sexual violence from happening in the first place,” she said.

Community members who would like to work with HAVEN in their fight against violence were encouraged to:

• Take the time to learn and educate others about the root causes of sexual violence.

• If someone you know confides in you, be an ally, listen to their story, and ask how they would like to move forward. Demonstrate your care and concern by asking questions and offering resources. Believing the survivor’s story is crucial to the healing process, Guevara noted.

• Encourage your community to recognize and work together to raise awareness and take action to prevent sexual violence. Resources, workshops and training are available, she said.

Chenowith concluded the presentation, saying, “We believe that is through the action of many that we will see individual lives changed for the better, ultimately making the Gorge a safer place for everyone.”

The full text of the proclamation is below, with those portions removed by the council enclosed in brackets.

City of The Dalles Proclamation Sexual Assault Action Month (April 2021)

Whereas: Sexual Violence affects every person in the Columbia River Gorge; and

Whereas: We believe survivors; and

Whereas: Now, more than ever, we are being reminded that we are capable of change; and

Whereas: Every individual and community in North Central Oregon has a role to play in moving forward and promoting health and safety for all people by not tolerating violence, by promoting accountability and by participating in the efforts to end violence and abuse; and

Whereas: Our efforts are built on the foundations of work by dedicated activists, advocates, preventionists, responders and community leaders who have been advancing justice and equity for decades; and

Whereas: By taking action where you work, play, learn, worship, and live, change is possible and sexual violence is preventable [when we are all working to end all forms of violence and abuse].

Now, Therefore: I, Richard A. Mays, Mayor of The City of The Dalles, hereby proclaim April 2021 to be Sexual Assault Action Month in The Dalles and encourage all community members to join in this observance.