OXFORD — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Oxford community came together on Saturday, April 1, to run a 5K to spread awareness for sexual assault victims and raise money for the charity Jane Doe No More.
The organizer of the Race to End the Silence 5K, Katie Harris, is a Miami University alumni and Psychology Department Project Coordinator. She chose to combine her love of marathon running with a topic she is passionate about.
Jane Doe No More Inc. was created by Donna Palomba of Connecticut, after she was raped in 1993 by a masked intruder in her home. Following the attack, her city’s police department heard rumors that Palomba was having an affair and had concocted a false rape accusation to cover her indiscretion. The department chose to believe the rumors and accused Palomba of lying and did not follow through in their investigation. They chose to tell Palomba, who had been attacked and traumatized, that she was lying and would do jail time.
Palomba and her family chose to fight the department. After years of asking for decency, Palomba took the case to court. The trial lasted a month, during which Palomba was questioned on everything from her motherhood, to the terminology she used on her 911 call, and even the injuries she sustained during the attack. They even had a female administrator cut a phone line sample to prove that a woman could do it, since during Palomba’s attack her attacker cut the phone line so she could not call for help, according to event organizers.
Two officers chose to speak honestly and they reported that the department handled the case wrong and found no evidence that she was involved in an affair. Dr. Henry Lee testified about the proper procedure for securing a crime scene (which the department did not follow). Dr. David Johnson from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Center at Yale testified about the emotional damage the police had inflicted on Palomba, and how detrimental it was to an innocent victim so soon after being attacked.
The jury deliberated for five days and on Jan. 21, 2001 they found the defendants guilty. The family was awarded $190,000 in damages, paid by the city. The guilty officers (a captain and a lieutenant) were not punished and were even eventually promoted, according to organizers.
One of the officers who spoke on Palomba’s behalf, Sergeant O’Leary, soon became the city’s Chief of Police. He never forgot about her case and set out to revamp the policy and procedure manual for the department. Palomba offered her assistance on the sexual assault portion.
In 2004, a man named John Regan was arrested for the sexual assault of a 21-year-old female. He was a family friend of Palomba’s husband. He pleaded not-guilty to the assault of the woman and was released on bond, and then he attacked a 17-year-old girl and was caught before he could seriously harm her.
Palomba’s DNA sample from after her assault was run against Regan’s DNA, and finally she knew the identity of her attacker. It was Regan, a repeat offender — and family friend — who finally was put in jail on kidnapping charges.
Palomba founded Jane Do No More with the vision of shortening the time from crime to healing for survivors. They want to improve the way society responds to survivors of sexual assault through education, awareness, advocacy, and support. They spread awareness, perform campus outreach, educate first responders, and provide online resources.
The charity is based in Connecticut, but Harris found out about it through a coach of hers, James McKirdy. Harris is a competitive marathon runner and McKirdy was her head coach, although most of her workouts were with a different coach. McKirdy was about to run a race, but had to drop out. Coincidentally, Harris was also about to run a race and got injured and had to drop out.
She was at home and reading online, when she saw McKirdy post about having to drop out of his race. “He wrote that he was especially disappointed, because he was running to benefit an organization. He said, the organization was called Jane Doe No More. He said this was very important to him because of the nature of the work of the organization. He wrote then, publicly for the first time, that he was a survivor of sexual assault,” she said.
“I identified with that a lot, because I am a survivor also. And I’m a marathon runner. We had those things suddenly in common. So much of what I feel, as a survivor, is it is important to talk about it, because it is critical to normalize it. To have conversations and be comfortable bringing it up. We should talk about it and use that strength to give strength to others,” she added.
Harris said talking about abuse is important to raise awareness for others. She said, “It reduces stigma and it is really important in building a safe community.”
With those feelings in mind, Harris decided to move forward. She researched Jane Doe No More and found herself connecting with their mission statement. She got in touch with McKirdy and asked him to put her in touch with the organization.
“I told him that this organization sounds incredible,” she said. “I found it through my running, and my running has been a powerful part of my recovery. I immediately thought to do a 5K. I want to fund raise for them, I want to give back somehow for what they’re doing.”
It took her a few weeks to get in touch with them. She told them about her interest in fundraising for them and they were shocked that someone all the way out in Ohio would have an interest in them, but they were also thrilled. The initial phone calls with started in November 2016. The efforts picked up in the new year.
Harris wanted the 5K to be for the community, not just students. To do a community-based 5K, the Oxford Police Department (OPD) has to be notified. There Harris found support she was not expecting in the form of Officer Julia Huff, who decided to go out and fundraise for the event with an officer team.
Officer Huff first saw the race on a traffic detail sign-up for OPD. She decided that if she was going to be working the event, she should know what it was about. She researched Jane Doe No More and was struck with an idea to be involved and fundraise for it.
“Officer [Richard] Butler and I sat down and looked into things that we could do,” Huff said. “I got donations from the FOP lodge, the Freemasons, a couple anonymous donors, and I sat up a Go Fund Me account through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I had people donate on there.
“I think with us working in a college town, sexual assaults and these sorts of crimes are more prevalent than they normally are in other towns and cities,” Huff said. “You add on the issue of people not reporting it. I don’t know what the reasonings are behind why people do not report, but I started to realize that maybe if I could get my face out in the community a little bit more, if I could run this as an agent of the Police Department, it might help.”
“This was just my way of trying to bridge the gap between the crime itself and people going through with an investigation, people reporting to authorities who can look into it and give them the resources that they need to start their healing process,” Huff said. “Because if you don’t tell anybody, how are we supposed to start helping you? At the very least, go to the hospital and get looked at, if that is something you need, and from there we will be contacted and we can help you go from there.”
She added, she does not presume to know why people choose whether or not to report a crime of this nature, but she felt like it was her duty to get her face out and show Oxford citizens that she supports them and that the police department would be there for them to help.
“This is just the beginning,” she added. “I’ve only been working here for a year and a half and Officer Butler has only been working here for six months or so. This is just scraping the surface. I think from here on out I’m going to do more of my own research, look into it, and try to figure out where this disconnect is between victims of crimes and reporting to police. I want to try to bridge that gap, so people can talk to us.”
Many organizations with Miami University affiliation also took part in the 5K, including: Active Minds, PAVES, Honors Student Advisory Board, Women Helping Women, and Student Counseling Services.
Harris added, her main goal for the 5K was to raise awareness for the subject of sexual violence and Jane Doe No More as an organization. “I want people to hear how vocal I am about it,” she said. “That’s very individual, but I think in some ways that can affect a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of public speaking about this event, and about my own story as well, through a lot of different organizations on campus. I’ve had a lot of people coming up to me and start talking about it. For every person that comes up to me and feels like I’ve given them a voice, that is exactly what I want to accomplish,” she said.
There were 60 registrants (donors) and 45 people who showed up to run, with over a dozen other people cheering and volunteering. The exact amount of earnings is not yet tallied, but officials are estimating funds raised at $2,000. Oxford businesses Juniper and RapidFired Pizza made donations for the raffle.
Harris would specifically like to thank OPD Officer Huff for individually raising $1,068.
As for 5K results, first man was Luke Gilday and first woman was Madison Mize.
If passionate about the subject of sexual abuse, there are ways to be a part of spreading awareness. Specifically, Jane Doe No More will be coming to Miami University on Tuesday, April 11. PAVES will be hosting a lecture from the organization as a part of “It’s On Us” week. The event is free and open to all. It will be held at Miami’s Farmer School of Business in Taylor Auditorium.
It’s On Us week is intended to spread awareness about sexual assault and it offers events from April 1 to April 14. The Race to End the Silence 5K was the kick-off. More information about the upcoming events can be found on Miami University’s website.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH