The light blue stickers posted on the front door of Jacquie’s Bistro, Brunch & Bar aren’t large or particularly flashy, but the café’s owner hopes they send a powerful message.
“Me too,” reads one sign. “I believe you,” states the other.
The phrase “Me too” has become a popular rallying cry on social media in the last month, meant to encourage victims of assault to share their stories and support others. And inside the restaurant on Thursday morning sat a handful of women living that message.
Seven members of the Wyoming Women Warriors were gathered at the cozy café to offer guidance and comfort to a woman dealing with the aftermath of leaving an abusive ex-boyfriend. They sipped coffee and talked while reading over police reports and calling up attorneys to see who’s taking on clients.
“It’s something that I don’t feel that I could have faced alone,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous.
And that’s the point of the organization—-that no woman should have to be alone, according to founder Aimee Kidd.
The group was created about three months ago to empower victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and has since grown to 350 members, said Kidd. Although the Warriors were initially focused on offering emotional support, the organization has since expanded to include advocacy efforts.
“It’s not us just sitting around and sharing our stories and hashing all that out,” explained Kidd. “It’s proactive.”
Group members accompany women while they attend court hearings or undergo sexual assault forensic testing, raise funds for those who cannot afford attorney fees and physically assist those who need to move out of abusive homes.
The organization partially formed as a result of anger regarding how local police were handling sexual assault cases. Kidd first approached Casper City Council in 2016 with concerns about how police were dealing with a complaint she filed. Prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue charges, citing insufficient evidence. In the meantime, dozens of women had reached out to share their own stories.
This summer’s well-publicized arrest of Casper businessman Tony Cercy, who is facing sexual assault charges related to allegations that he raped an unconscious 20-year-old, also played a role in the group’s creation. Cercy has pleaded not guilty.
Casper City Council member Amanda Huckabay, who was elected in part for her advocacy for sexual assault victims and is a member of the Warriors, said Thursday that she’s elated to see the “Me Too” movement sweeping the nation.
“I think when these things are going on at a national level, it creates momentum,” she explained.
Huckabay compared the country’s current atmosphere to that of a “boiling tea pot,” and said steam is finally starting to be released.
“Women are standing up and saying we’ve had enough,” she remarked.
The “Me Too” social media movement went viral in October as a response to The New York Times investigative report detailing a multitude of sexual assault allegations against prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Huckabay, who has previously identified herself as a rape survivor, said hearing about sexual assault cases can also be difficult for victims. It’s infuriating to think about how many people experience assault, she explained, and it can bring up painful memories about their own experiences. But the group is also glad people are speaking out.
“We have a problem in this community,” said Jacquie’s Bistro owner Jacquie Anderson, adding that she decided to start her own restaurant years ago after repeatedly experiencing sexual assault and discrimination at work.
Anderson wants everyone who enters her downtown establishment to understand that it’s a safe space. Harassment of any sort, be it to a customer or an employee, will not be tolerated.
That’s why she welcomes groups like the one that came together Thursday.
They had returned from a hearing at a nearby Casper courtroom to support the woman trying to obtain a protective order. She recently decided to hire a lawyer, so the hearing Thursday was brief and no conclusion was reached. But that’s not to say it wasn’t stressful.
Moments before entering the courtroom, she was served custody papers from her ex-boyfriend, who is asserting that she should not be allowed to care for their children because he claims she is suicidal.
Group members, some of whom attended the hearing, assured her that attempting to blindside victims before they enter a courtroom is a common technique used by abusers, and urged her not to be intimidated. The woman, who periodically broke down into tears, said she was grateful to have the group’s support throughout this ordeal.
“It’s empowering,” said Kidd. “We’re not going to take this stuff anymore”