Michelle Hughes Miller, a professor in the department of women and gender studies, shared her story, her voice unwavering and brimmed with passion, in the Marshall Student Center amphitheater on Tuesday night during the seventh annual Take Back the Night.
She shared her story with the more than 100 students so they too could share their stories at the event sponsored by the student organization N.I.T.E. with the assistance of the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, which was designed to spread awareness about gendered and sexual violence.
Thirty years ago, she said she was a victim. Today, she is a survivor.
She said she was raped by someone she trusted, and when people didn’t believe what she said, she said she sort of believed them too and wanted to move on with her life.
But nine years after her attack, she was confronted with the person who raped her. Nine years later, she said, she realized the power the incident held over her.
Today she teaches, volunteers in domestic violence shelters and sometimes shares her story at events.
“I do this because I remember,” she said. “I worry that other women will go through this experience. I do this work because I can and because I should. As a teacher, I can educate. As a scholar, I can study and improve the system for victims and survivors. As a person, I can and I should speak out.”
Miller said though she has reached a better place in her life, awareness should be spread for those who haven’t.
“I came upon the realization that as I go about my every day life, as I go out and exercise, as I teach a class, there’s a woman out there whose everyday life is not the same as mine,” she said. “When I get home, I find comfort and love, I don’t find violence. When I’m walking down the streets, I’m not whistled at or made threats at. I’m not followed or being raped by someone that I trust.
“But she’s out there,” she said. “… And there’s over a million of her everywhere —the woman who showers to get the feel and the smell of him off of her, the woman who calls the police and her friends and spends several hours telling her story, the woman who walks home three miles after being raped because she’s too embarrassed to call anyone because she knows they’re going to blame her. … But it’s not just women who are raped. Men are too. He’s out there too. He’s on our campus too. He’s our friend, our colleague, our student, our co-worker.”
Students, faculty, staff and administrators marched silently around the MLK Plaza holding signs that pledged their support toward working to end what Miller said was a “rape culture,” or one in which sexual violence is “normalized and excused” in pop culture and the media.
While rape remains a highly underreported crime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics, one in four college age women will have been the victims of rape or sexual violence at some point during their lives. Studies vary for male victims of sexual violence, with some indicating as many as one in seven college age men are victims.
Ryan Newton, student programs coordinator in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, led male attendees in taking the REAL men pledge, a pledge that affirms commitment to creating relationship equality and preventing violence.
“Everyone in here can think of four women they care about,” he said. “If even one of them was hurt, that’s too many.”
During the speak-out portion of the event, members of the audience were invited to take to the stage and share their stories if they wanted to.
More than 30 survivors took to the stage, emboldened by each story told before them, some in tears and others with beams of pride in what they had overcome.
Some were men. Some were women. Some were undergraduate students. Some were graduate students.
Some knew their attackers. Some still see them on campus. Some are related to them.
Some were raped multiple times. Some were raped for elongated periods of time. Some were speaking about their experiences for the first time to anyone.
“I feel a little better.”
“I never thought what I had to say was important.”
“I’m free now.”
As speakers took the stage, many in the audience wiped away tears and hugged each other. Victim advocates were available for speakers or anyone who sought their assistance.
Miller asked attendees to use what they heard and experienced at the event to challenge what they experience in their day-to-day lives.
“This is not just the work of survivors,” she said. “It’s all of us — mothers, sisters, brothers, teachers. Tonight, we take the night back, but tomorrow, join me to take back the day too.”