A flood of people, about 50 protesters brandished with colorful posters, united together Tuesday afternoon above the Red River.
Feet from honking traffic – blaring their horns in support – the activists rallied on the warm sidewalks of Veterans Memorial Bridge to voice their collective disgust of rape culture in America.
A recent court ruling sparked the event.
Minnesota State University Moorhead student Jessy Hegland created a Facebook group after a local man facing felony charges had his sentence lessened through a plea deal.
Taylor Pederson pled guilty last week in a case accusing him of raping an MSUM student in Fargo.
Instead of facing up to 20 years in prison with the Class A felony charge, Pederson pled guilty to two Class B misdemeanors.
With the plea deal, Pederson avoided jail time and having to register as a sex offender.
“This case is just another one where a rapist pleads guilty and gets to live on with his life,” Hegland said.
While the case itself catalyzed the event, Hegland said the protesters were not only picketing the verdict.
Most, if not all, protesters said something needs to change with the United States’ “rape culture.”
North Dakota State student Margalit Balaban said not only was she protesting the “lenient charges” against Pederson, but she was also showing her support for women.
“We can’t continue to support rape culture,” Balaban said. By doing so “we are saying what happens to women doesn’t matter.”
She continued, saying while laws could be stricter, rehabilitation for offenders needed to be offered, too.
Recently released polls have put college sexual assaults in the national spotlight.
A Public Religion Research Institute survey of millennials found about one-third of respondents said they though sexual assault was “very common” in the university setting. About 40 percent of respondents thought sexual assault was “somewhat common,” the largest percentage.
Less than 5 percent said sexual assault was “very rare.”
The same poll revealed the majority of millennials – about 60 percent – thought collegiate institutions were not doing enough to address sexual violence on campuses.
Because of the stigmatized and complicated nature of sexual assault, many cases go unvoiced, which upsets Hegland.
“All of us have a voice, and all of us can do something to stop the violence,” Hegland said. “Silence is compliance. You get it? If you don’t say something, it means that it’s okay for it to keep happening.
“And it’s not okay. And we need to say something”
Balaban said by standing side-by-side with fellow protesters, a group including men, women and children of all ages, a conversation was started.
Loral Hannaher said she agreed awareness needed to be raised.
Hannaher, a retired MSUM professor, saw the event on her Facebook feed Tuesday morning.
As a mother of a daughter, she said the event hit home.
“Our campuses need to be safer places,” Hannaher said. “ … It’s too bad this even has to be a part of life.”
The protest served as a healing event for some, too.
“It’s essential to hold the protest to show that there are people in the community that care,” Hegland said. “That we let the authentic voices be heard and for all of us to heal.”