MILWAUKEE — "There is no excuse and never an invitation to rape."
That's the message millions of people across the globe are trying to promote, including community leaders in southeast Wisconsin.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett held a news conference Wednesday morning at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, rallying around a 20-year push to support people such as Annika Leonard, a survivor of sexual assault. Leonard said she was 8 years old when she was first assaulted. It happened again years later, this time by her boyfriend.
“I repeatedly told him I did not want to have intercourse, and he ripped my jeans down the middle, and then afterward, he called me like everything was normal,” Leonard recounted.
“I went from being a gifted and talented student to being a drug dealer, gang banger, womanizer, and I never knew why until I finally went to federal prison.” — Rafael Mercado
Leonard now wants young people to have a clear definition of sexual assault and the ways it can affect them as adults — trauma that still pains Rafael Mercado — who spoke openly about being molested by a Catholic priest from ages 8 to 12. The abuse changed the course of his life.
“I went from being a gifted and talented student to being a drug dealer, gang banger, womanizer, and I never knew why until I finally went to federal prison,” Mercado said.
Mercado now leads a group called Team HAVOC where he helps people who have experienced similar trauma — encouraging them to speak up and join city leaders in putting a stop to a public health concern that knows no bounds.