Lebanon rally raises awareness of sexual abuse

Editor’s Note: The following story contains sensitive subject matter/terminology.

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Kendall Blasingame says she first experienced sexual assault when she was 10 years old. A boy, she said, grabbed her inappropriately, so she bit him.
A teacher told her that biting was no excuse for something like that.
“She taught me and all the kids in her class who could hear that when someone grabs you like that, biting or any form of self-defense against that is never OK,” said Blasingame, now 17.
The boy continued to chase and touch her at recess during the rest of the school year, she said. Three years later, she said, she was assaulted by a different boy, a friend.
Blasingame’s experiences – and the experiences of her friends and her friends’ friends – drove her to organize a sexual assault awareness rally in Lebanon on Saturday, July 10, that drew a small audience to the Academy Square gazebo, where victims shared their stories.

Blasingame refers to notes on her phone to tell stories shared by her friends.

“I feel the need to have this because I feel like sexual assault in small towns like this is kind of brushed aside and not taken as seriously as it should be,” she said.
According to Blasingame, now 17, the incident with her then-friend was not consensual. In addition, he allegedly shared photos, videos and threats on her life with peers, and yet no one, she said, believed her side of the story.
Granted, only Blasingame’s side was heard at the rally, but others also testified to similar experiences, which left the impression that victims are victimized again when no one believes them.
When Jadyn Grenz, 19, shared some time ago that an acquaintance’s relative sexually assaulted her, that friend didn’t believe her, she said. When the relative allegedly admitted to it, her friend, she said, became hostile and, months later, would tell people the two had slept together and Grenz just regretted it.
According to Heather Gibons, an employee at the nonprofit Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, it may be difficult for some to believe a victim’s accusations because of both personal experience and cultural norms.
“I think we have preconceived notions of the people in our life,” she said, “and when we’re confronted with another aspect of that or something that conflicts with how we think about it, it’s hard to accept that.”
Blasingame said she’s frustrated with victim-blaming and agreed with Gibons that media and social media are part of the problem.
“It needs to be talked about more often; not just in health class at school,” Blasingame said. “We need to do better when it comes to incarceration. We need to do better when it comes to whom we put in charge of cases like this. I feel like schools need to do better when there’s a rumor of someone sexually assaulting someone.”

AT THE RALLY, Alie Wallace, Kendall Blasingame and Jadyn Grenz speak on July 10 about their experiences.

Three girls spoke at the rally about their own experiences, but they also read stories from friends who were not comfortable sharing in public.
The stories shed light on many instances of assault in Linn County: harassment in middle school as a game; unwanted touching; authority figures allegedly saying, “Boys will be boys,” or “It’s your fault;” forced oral sex; a boy teaching his young cousin how to kiss; and even another story about Blasingame’s ex-boyfriend reportedly assaulting a girl.
A female juvenile, who was not comfortable sharing her name, said she attended the rally to support her friends. She said that, based on her experience and understanding, some police departments have a reputation for not doing enough to help women who have experienced sexual abuse.

Blasingame’s father and sister were among the few who attended the first awareness rally.

The answer to reducing sexual assault is education, Gibons said. Teaching consent at a very young age, as well as changing cultural norms, is important to creating change.
“I want more action to be taken, and I want abusers to be held accountable for what they do,” Blasingame said.
“I feel like sexual assault isn’t talked about enough in our town, and I feel like it’s not really taken seriously. I want people to be aware that it doesn’t just happen in big towns; it also happens very commonly here and in Sweet Home and Albany.”