Sexual abuse awareness event comes to campus

Survivors of rape and sexual abuse may not get back the kind of life they had before their attack, but tonight they’ll be able to try during Take Back the Night.

From 6 to 9 at the MLK Plaza, victims of sexual assault will share their stories in a safe environment while supporters hold candles to encourage them to continue their journey of survival.

Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an event that brings awareness of violence against women, as well as other types of violence. According to its Web site, the event “offer(s) survivors … an opportunity to give voice to their experiences and publicly affirm their transition from victim to survivor.”

TBTN is held on college campuses across the nation and is being hosted at USF by the student organization Necessary Improvements to Transform our Environment (NITE). In addition to survivor stories – also known as a “speak out” – and a candlelight vigil, the event will feature speakers from the Spring of Tampa Bay, USF Advocacy Center and University Police.

The event has even more significance, considering the amount of domestic violence locally. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Hillsborough County had a total of 10,050 domestic violence offenses in 2005, with 114 of those being forcible rapes. Hillsborough County is second in the state in this category, behind only Miami-Dade County, which had 14,474 total domestic violence offenses. On campus, there were two forcible rapes in 2005 reported to UP, according to the 2006-2007 USF Safety Guide.

“Sexual violence, assault and rape do not discriminate,” NITE adviser Jeanine Minge said in an e-mail. “No matter what race, gender, sexual orientation (or) class you are, you could be affected by it.”Members of NITE planned for the event to take place this month, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Minge said. TBTN will also provide support and resources for those who are going through abuse. “Take Back the Night offers people options and the knowledge needed to get help,” Minge said. “The event raises awareness about where to go, who to speak to and what to do if you have been affected by sexual violence of any kind.”

Victims of sexual assault are not limited to those who experienced the violence firsthand – their loved ones can be deeply affected by such heinous crimes, and they too can find support at TBTN.

“Men are also victims of sexual assault and violence as well,” said Marilyn Bray, grants manager for The Spring, an abuse prevention agency that will have its resources on hand. “They can be secondary victims, as well. Being in love with a woman who has been raped can be challenging. Secondary survivors – they need support, too. They need to know what’s out there for them, resources they can use.”

The event is also part of NITE’s larger vision to keep the USF community safe. It has already made an impact through its efforts to get all of the emergency blue lights on campus repaired.

“NITE is dedicated to campus safety and to making each person on USF’s campus aware, empowered and secure,” Minge said. “Important dimensions of campus safety and community empowerment are awareness, knowledge and options.”Sarah Austin, president of NITE, believes that such awareness comes from putting people in touch with the right resources.

“NITE was started as an intermediary student organization to educate students about the numerous resources on the USF campus and in the Tampa area, focusing on health and safety,” Austin said in an e-mail. “We have many great organizations on campus that are always striving to help students, but we hope that peer education will improve their awareness (of these organizations).”

For the USF community, TBTN gives college-aged victims a venue to express their struggle to survive.

“With younger victims, their voice is often lost,” Bray said. “It’s very important that the victim is supported, knows what resources in the community are. It gives validation to their experience that they’re not alone.

“Being a survivor of both domestic violence and rape, I still face going through the aftershock and the post-traumatic stress today. These assaults and attacks last a lifetime. These events are not only important for those in immediate crisis, but those who are continuing their journey.””Take Back the Nightoffers people options and the knowledge needed to get help. The event raisesawareness about where to go, who to speak to and what to do if you have beenaffected by sexual violence of any kind.”Jeanine MingeNITE adviser