Changemakers

Changemakers are working toward a legal definition of consent. Three members of the group are (l to r) Cordelia Lewis-Burks, Velvet Miller, Rita Venable. (Photo/Breanna Cooper)

An estimated 18% of African American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. This number is difficult to accurately estimate, however, because for every 15 African American women who are raped, only one will report it. 

Just as the name implies, Changemakers want to change that by removing the stigma surrounding sexual assault, work with legislators to create a legal definition of consent and prosecute such cases more often.

The Changemakers, a subcommittee of Women4Change Indiana, are allowing survivors of sexual assault to share their stories anonymously via “The Clothesline,” where people can write their experiences down on a notecard and pin it to a traveling clothesline. The group plans to have it on display at the Statehouse in March, allowing legislators and others at a planned rally to see the stories of Hoosier women and men who have lived through sexual assault.

“We want to show our legislators that this isn’t a small issue,” Changemaker Rita Venable, 67, said. “This is a big issue and is happening to many, many citizens in Indiana, and we have to come up with a solution or some kind of plan to help stop this.” 

Women4Change Indiana, a nonpartisan organization that helps women get involved in local government, will also hold different theater productions at various locations throughout Indianapolis about sexual assault.

The Changemakers are also pushing the Indiana Legislature to create a legal definition of “consent.” 

The rally in March will give legislators an opportunity to listen to survivors of sexual assault and consider their stories when making legislative decisions. 

Cordelia Lewis-Burks, 83, has been active in local and national politics for decades. The current vice chair of the Indiana Democratic Party and the first superdelegate in Indiana to endorse President Barack Obama in 2008, Lewis-Burks hopes to use her political experience to influence changes on not only how sexual assault is spoken about, but how cases are prosecuted. 

“One in five women in Indiana have been sexually assaulted,” Lewis-Burks said. “Often, no one is prosecuted. The issue of consent comes up, and it can be painted in many ways. ‘What were you wearing? Did you encourage it? Did you come onto him?’ There is no legal definition of consent, and that is one of the activities that Women4Change and the Changemakers are involved in, to get a legal definition by the state legislature on consent … and to ensure that there are penalties for someone who sexually assaults another person.” 

Legally, Lewis-Burks hopes someone saying “no” during a sexual encounter is enough to make a case for sexual assault. 

 “Simply ‘no,’” said Changemaker Velvet Miller, 74. Miller got involved in Women4Change after attending the first Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in 2017. The Changemakers believe education is key to decreasing sexual assaults and increasing police reports. 

“We need to educate young people about what’s acceptable and not acceptable,” Venable said. “We need to help girls understand their value and their worth. Sometimes [after an assault] you feel unworthy or that you brought it upon yourself … and we have to change those types of perceptions by letting people know there is help out there.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-459-8747. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Cordelia Lewis-Burks as a former vice chair of the Indiana Democratic Party.

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