Ashley Dawson of Wauconda, foreground, is among those participating in a Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center demonstration Monday to draw attention to sexual assault survivors as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (Jim Newton / Lake County News-Sun)

Cold, snow don’t deter sexual assault demonstration at Lake County Courthouse

Wintry weather, including snow, didn’t deter about 15 demonstrators from “standing silent witness” outside of the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan Monday morning to honor sexual assault survivors.

Borrowing a tradition initially established by a Chicago rape victim advocacy group, the demonstrators — workers, volunteers and friends with the Gurnee-based Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center — displayed shirts and signs, and held silent vigil from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Zacharias Center spokeswoman Jennifer Evans said the tribute was designed “to mark all of the survivors who don’t have a voice.”

“A lot of sexual violence is about loss of power,” Evans said.

The Zacharias Center, formed as a non-profit center against sexual assault and abuse in 1983, is marking April’s designation as Sexual Assault Awareness Month with events, beginning with Monday’s appearance at the courthouse and concluding with a 5K event April 22 at the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville.

As the demonstrators stood sturdy in the face of a chilly wind and light snow, Evans said one member of the group was designated to answer any questions and provide information to those entering and leaving the courthouse.

“The weather has thrown us a bit of a curveball, but it’s OK,” Evans said.

Ashley Dawson of Wauconda held a sign that read “93 percent of juvenile sexual abuse knew the perpetrator,” and said the silence of the demonstrators reflects the silence of many abuse and assault victims who often have no voice.

“It’s about showing the survivors we support them and know they’re out there,” Dawson said.

Nikki Hannon of Chicago displayed a brightly-colored T-shirt that she hoped to wear Monday but held up in front of her coat instead.

Monday marked the eighth year Zacharias Center has upheld the silent witness tradition, Evans said.

She said the silent gathering demonstrates that the Zacharias Center participants show solidarity with people who have survived an assault, and also stand for those who have stayed in silence and have yet to disclose their experiences.

“Silence can be louder than words,” said Zacharias Center Administrative Assistant Joanna Akkala, who attended the event with members of her family. “As a community, we stand together come snow, rain or shine to help end sexual violence.”

The Zacharias Center now operates from two locations, with a facility in Skokie joining the Gurnee center.

Evans said the Zacharias Center provides places where survivors of sexual violence can heal and mobilizes the community toward action to end sexual violence.

Services are available free of charge to all survivors, regardless of race, gender, language, ability to pay, sexual orientation or religion. For more information online, visit



Twitter @jimnewton5

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