Between the gaps of heavy silence as some mustered courage and others patiently waited, about 15 survivors came to the front of Clark A 101, picked up the microphone, and shared their stories of sexual assault, abuse and violence Thursday night.
The annual event, Take Back the Night, was moved indoors due to the weather. Normally, the “speak out,” in which survivors are invited to publicly share their experiences, is held outdoors on the Lory Student Center Garden. Then, participants and attendees march to old town for the keynote speaker. However, the march was cancelled this year, and the event moved immediately from the “speak out” to the keynote speaker.
During the “speak out,” several survivors shared stories of abuse and recovery, and many provided words of encouragement for the survivors listening.
“To be in a collaborative group of people who are all working to end the violence by taking back the night, sharing or listening to stories is so empowering not only for the survivors but for those who want to end (sexual assault),” said Susan Brown, logistics coordinator for the College Feminist Alliance, a group that planned the event in collaboration with the Women Gender Advocacy Center.
Behind the speakers, several t-shirts were displayed, painted with words from survivors.
“People can make shirts with the words they want people to see,” Brown said.
Each color of t-shirt symbolized a different experience:
- Red, Pink, Orange = sexual assault and rape
- Green, Blue = child sexual abuse
- Yellow, Tan, Brown = intimate partner violence
- Purple, Lavender = hate crimes based on sexual orientation
- White = remembering those who have died from violence
- Black = hate crimes based on race
“It took me years to learn that an eleven-year-old can’t ask for it,” one of the blue t-shirts read.
After the “Speak Out,” keynote speaker Cori Wong, director of the Women and Gender Collaborative at CSU, spoke primarily about rape culture and ending sexual violence.
“What is there not to believe?” Wong asked when speaking about believing survivors of sexual assault “It’s one in four (women who will be raped). The one in four of us aren’t just hiding in distant shadows of mythical spaces. We are all surrounded by people who have gone through something like this.”
Wong chose not to share her own story, because she said she wanted to instead focus on the culture that allows sexual assault and the ways to prevent it, so that there are eventually “no more rape stories to share.”
“Rather than bonding in the shared victimization and pain, I think it is better to bond over the shared commitment to end sexual violence by actively changing a rape supportive culture,” Wong said.
Wong said ending rape culture requires effort from bystanders.
“For anyone who thinks that to end rape we need to teach women to be more aware of your surroundings, they clearly don’t understand that our daily experiences have already forced us to be hyperaware,” Wong said. “Rather than acquiring defensive skills of our own, we need everyone, all of us, to become experts in prevention and intervention to challenge rape culture so that we don’t have anymore rape stories to tell.”
Collegian reporter Erin Douglas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @erinmdouglas23.