As Albemarle County Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler walked through the front doors of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail to begin serving his 30-day active sentence for misdemeanor sexual battery, dozens of Charlottesville High School students walked along the Downtown Mall in support of an end to violence against women.
Students and supporters marched from the Main Street Arena to the free speech chalkboard Friday night, carrying candles and holding signs for the estimated one in three women worldwide who will be abused in their lifetime.
The school's Amnesty International club timed the event to coincide with International Women's Day and had not heard of Dumler's case, said Rajia Arbab, 16 and a junior at Charlottesville High.
"We really just wanted to show that the abuse [affects] all of us," Arbab said. "It's not just a women's issue."
Organizers encouraged attendees to wear black in mourning for survivors of sexual and domestic violence at We Are the Line, the first iteration of what the club hopes will become an annual tradition.
City Councilor Dave Norris, one of several speakers to address the crowd, called on men to take responsibility for their role in perpetrating violence against women.
"A man can be arrested for sexually violating a woman, and when he finally does apologize he says he's sorry for being 'discourteous,'" Norris said, referring to a public statement Dumler released on Feb. 27 acknowledging "those whom [he has] been discourteous towards."
"Discourteous is arriving 15 minutes late or spending all night on your cell phone," Norris said. "When you pin a woman down [and] violate her ... that's not 'discourteous.'"
A steady wind whipped over the 100 candles lining the stage, plunging the light glow into darkness as poems, songs and stories were shared. When the flames went out, students circled up to re-light the line, inspiring several speakers to reflect on the action as a metaphor for social change.
"The candles go out and you can get really tired, but don't get burnt out ... everything you do helps, no matter how small," said Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University of Virginia Women's Center.
The club's sponsor, Gene Osborn, a teacher at CHS, said he was proud of what the group accomplished.
"They have a really strong understanding of how broad these issues are," Osborn said. "Usually when we think about violence against women, we think of assault or domestic abuse, but these kids are looking at equality of access to education and health care -- it's on such a broader scale."
The students plan to compile an action kit and send the step-by-step instructions to schools across the region.
"Even though we're an Amnesty International group, we're starting this, which is a big part of why it's so exciting for the students," Osborn said. "They're thinking big. Hopefully, it will grow and expand."
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!