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Sexual assault survivor says she is triggered by annual Naked Bike Ride in Madison

naked bike ride pic-@PhilBrinkmanWSJ.jpg
Pic-@PhilBrinkmanWSJ

MADISON, Wis. - The Naked Bike Ride is scheduled for Saturday. Madison residents should prepare to come across the large group of naked bicycle riders.

Joan Downs tries to avoid it each year. As a sexual assault survivor, she said seeing dozens, often hundreds of naked bodies unexpectedly is a trigger for her.

It brings back memories of the perpetrator who attacked her as a child.

"There are things that your body reacts to, whether you want it to or not. Mine reacts. I've been out of that situation for 50 years, but things are still... you never forget," Downs said.

She said she doesn't have an issue with the event as a whole, but she wants organizers to release their route four to five days before the ride so those who don't want to see it can choose to avoid it.

"So that those folks, for whatever reason, children or just don't want to see it, or survivors or just rather not deal with it, can say, 'Alright, we were going to go to the farmer's market on Saturday, but we're going to go next Saturday instead. And we're not going to go this way, but that way instead,'" Downs said.

A representative of the Madison Police Department said that, every year, residents call to complain about the event, but there's nothing officers can do.

Simply riding a bike while naked does not classify as public indecency in the city of Madison. Years ago, police cited participants and it resulted in a lawsuit against the city that was later dropped.

A public nudity ordinance was proposed, but the council voted against it.

The participants are not committing an act of sexual gratification, so police cannot cite them.

"In theory, I support them. But as a sexual assault survivor, I need to take care of me," Downs said.

Erin Thornley-Parisi, with the Rape Crisis Center, encouraged people who are struggling with triggers to work with an advocate or call the 24/7 hotline at (608) 251-7273.

"You just never know what is going to be triggering. It literally can be the sound of a zipper or a glimpse of somebody who looks like the perpetrator," she said.

Thornley-Parisi hopes the ride organizers will be cognizant of the fact that the event can trigger people, and will put out a lot of warnings for people who want to avoid it.

A representative with Madison's chapter of World Naked Bike Ride declined to comment. A poster for the event said it is a "protest of oil dependency and body shame."

The chapter's website said the start location, announcements and all information about participation will only be available to those who join a restricted Yahoo group.

A news release said the ride will begin at 11 a.m., at a location to be announced at least 24 hours beforehand.

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