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Durango dances in defiance ‘because we SASO’

Local resource joins in movement against domestic, sexual violence
Maura Doherty Demko, director of Sexual Assault Services Organization and one of the organizers of the third annual One Billion Rising event, said Valentine’s Day has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault of the year. Fifty or so people danced Saturday at Buckley Park, including, from left, Andi Stemple, Jeff Karraker, Christine Tucker, Sweetie Marbury and Britney Meiers.

About 50 people gathered in Buckley Park on Saturday, Valentine’s Day, to support a growing movement to put an end to violence against women.

Known around the world as One Billion Rising and hosted by Durango’s Sexual Assault Services Organization, it’s a global gathering where communities act out in defiance of domestic and sexual violence. Nearly 200 countries around the world took part.

“We are part of a bigger movement, but it starts here,” said SASO Director Maura Doherty Demko. “Our event (Saturday) is for our community to take a stance.”

And participants made that stance for the third year in a row, with choreographed dancing and drumming, many wearing shirts in support of the cause. Passers-by honked. “Break the Chain,” a theme song written for the global event, echoed throughout the park.

“This is an easy, fun outreach for us,” she said. “It’s such a cool experience, to get people together and get the word out in a not-so-scary way.”

Doherty Demko said in Colorado, 1 of 4 women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Nationally, it’s 1 in 3.

According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, rape is the most unreported crime in the country. In one national study, as little as 1 in 6 women reported their assaults to law enforcement.

SASO provides services to sexual-assault victims and works in the community to provide education, prevention and safety by raising public awareness. They also advocate for survivors.

“We provided service to over 300 clients this year with almost 500 contacts,” Doherty Demko said. “We spoke to them over the phone, they walked into our office, we went with them to the courts, we help them fill out civil protection orders – all of that.”

And Valentine’s Day, like many holidays, sees a spike in incidents, Doherty Demko said.

“I think it’s because we don’t all have perfect skills on how to have a healthy relationship,” she said. “So there are all these expectations of what Valentine’s Day is, and if you don’t have the skills, violence can still show up.”

One Billion Rising always is on Valentine’s Day.

“When it’s a day about love, we also want to create awareness, so people can build skills and know what’s in their community as a resource if they need support,” Doherty Demko said.

Christine Tucker, SASO’s community education coordinator, said it’s a difficult issue, so finding unique ways to bring it out into the open is valuable.

“I’m really passionate about this cause,” she said. “It’s a really tough issue that people don’t want to talk about, so we decided to just dance,” she said.

Tucker led a group of about 30 in dances – expressions of defiance – in the warm sun.

“I want to do good in this community,” she said.

SASO has a 24-hour hotline, 247-5400, and offices in the Commons Building in Durango at 701 Camino del Rio. The agency has between 30 and 50 volunteers.

“You can call us,” Doherty Demko said. “Or, you can walk in our offices, and we’ll provide advocacy and support.”

One supporter held a sign that read, “No more, because we SASO.”

“We’re in the community doing things like this, so we’re a familiar face, and that’s huge,” Doherty Demko said. “Every little bit helps when you’re doing this kind of work.”


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