One by one, survivors of sexual and domestic violence told stories of despair and encouragement Tuesday night at USF’s 2nd annual Take Back the Night at MLK Plaza.
More than 21 people spoke about the effects that sexual and domestic violence have had on their lives at an event organized by Necessary Improvements to Transform our Environment (N.I.T.E.), a campus group that promotes student safety and health.
Many students spoke for the first time while visibly shaking and fighting back tears. Others talked about the way that they have been affected indirectly by sexual and domestic violence.
“These are secondary victims – people who are close to a relative or friend, mother, daughter or sister who was abused,” said Justin Miller, assistant director of intercollegiate athletics.
An athlete came to Miller’s office, he said, and told him that even he was a victim of rape because a family member of his had been raped, so he considered himself a victim as well.
“If a 250-pound linebacker can be a victim, anyone can,” Miller said.
Nanci Newton, director of the advocacy program at USF, shared her story about the strides that women’s rights have made in the fight against sexual and domestic violence since the inception of Take Back the Night in the 1970s, when law enforcement used to blame sexual violence on women.
“People used to say ‘There’s no such thing as rape because you can’t thread a moving needle,'” she said. “We redefined what rape is. It’s not about the sex, it’s really about the violence.”
Domestic violence was also a main concern at Take Back the Night. Women from the Spring of Tampa Bay, a shelter that reaches out to women who are victims of domestic violence, shared their struggles and offered advice to others.
“Domestic violence is all around us. One in six American women are raped, but one in four are victims of domestic violence,” said Linda Hess, a Spring of Tampa Bay staffer.
“There are many levels of domestic violence, and it doesn’t happen overnight, it is a gradual thing.”
There are two programs at USF designed to help train students to resist domestic and sexual violence.
A two-hour program is offered to teach self-defense and provide information on crime prevention. The other is the rape aggression defense program (RAD) which is designed to give students options that enable them to resist violence.
“They give you the nuts and bolts so that when it comes down to it, you know how to resist sexual violence,” said Sgt. Domingo, an officer with the University Police.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape, and college-age women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
“We want people to understand that this is an issue that affects everyone, not just women. Even if it doesn’t directly affect you than it could affect your sister, mother and friends,” said Carissa Caricato, president of N.I.T.E.
“It was very eye-opening,” said Stacia Smith, a freshman majoring in exercise science. “It is good for people to hear the stories so they can help others who want to talk about it.”