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Walk shines light on fight against sexual violence

The day seemed routine for Teri Wright, who came home from her job as a national operations manager in Center City, ate dinner, watched TV, and went to bed.

The day seemed routine for Teri Wright, who came home from her job as a national operations manager in Center City, ate dinner, watched TV, and went to bed.

But at about 2 a.m., she was awakened by four men who had broken into her house. They tied her up at gunpoint. Wright was raped four times.

"I had a choice that night," said Wright, 48, of Edgewater Park, Burlington County. "I could have untied myself and laid in the bed" and kept a secret.

Instead, she ran for help and reported the assault to police.

Wright discussed that day - Oct. 8, 2010 - as she marched Saturday in the "7th Annual Community Walk and Speak Out" sponsored by Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), an anti-sexual-violence advocacy organization that offers treatment services.


The march is held annually during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month to bring attention to the fight against sexual abuse and violence.

Wright was one of about 150 people who walked 1.5 miles from LOVE Park to a ballroom at the Independence Visitor Center, carrying signs that said "Stop Sexual Violence Now" and chanting, "One, two, three, four, we won't take it anymore."

At the center, organizers distributed information, officials spoke out against sexual violence, and survivors told their stories.

Speakers included Mayor Nutter, State Rep. Maria Donatucci, City Councilman Bill Greenlee, and State Sen. Leanna Washington, who described herself as a survivor of incest and domestic violence.

"For many years I didn't talk about it. I was ashamed," said Washington, 66. "I never thought of myself as a survivor. Oftentimes we think whatever life throws at us, we deserve. We do not deserve it."

Nutter discussed the city's efforts to fight sexual abuse and violence, citing plans for a headquarters that will put in one place several agencies and groups that serve victims of sexual assault and abuse. Representatives of the police, the District Attorney's Office, WOAR, the Children's Alliance, and the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center will be among those located at the headquarters, scheduled to open next year at Third Street and Hunting Park Avenue.

Kathy Morris of Fairmount, a former police officer who was raped as a child, has found WOAR's services to be invaluable.

"I went there for therapy group sessions and I would call the hotline in the middle of the night - out of my mind."

Morris, who now heads an alternative healing practice, read an excerpt from her memoir.

"I always wanted to know if anybody ever got better from this," Morris said.

Survivors say it is a lifelong process.

"It takes years to flush out the poison, not weeks," said Joel Hoffmann, 29, of Philadelphia. "I'm still accessing memories."

Hoffmann, who was molested and emotionally abused as a child, has had therapy through the years, but didn't start treatment to focus on his abuse until about a year go.

He struggled to maintain his composure as he turned the pages of his speech.

When he finished, his wife, Nina, embraced him and then stood behind the lectern. She talked about the effects of sexual abuse on the survivor's family.


Nina Hoffmann admitted to sometimes feeling angry, lonely, and ignored as her husband's struggles engulfed them. The stress threatened their marriage.

"It's the hardest thing you will ever do," she said, "but if you go into it together, you will make it out together."

Wright's support system has been her mother, sister, son, and boyfriend.

They have been with her through the rape kit, the counseling, and the court proceedings that Wright attends. She also has been in counseling since the assault.

Wright believes awareness about sexual violence needs to be raised partly because there are not enough services for survivors. And it's only with help, Wright added, that "you make it through the minutes, the hours, the months, the years."