Restraining tears and powering through their personal accounts of assault, a student, who wished to remain anonymous, found it difficult to come to terms with certain realities of their experiences when those around them weren’t initially supportive.
The student said a family member imposed sexual acts on them when they were only a child, yet, when nothing was done about the situation, they had to live through the trauma repeatedly at every family gathering by seeing that family member.
“I told my parents what happened. It was really hard to tell them, and they told me to forget about it,” they said. “They didn’t take me seriously, so nobody did anything. I had to see [the family member] every holiday, every year.”
Stories shared throughout Tuesday night’s Take Back the Night encouraged multiple other students to speak up. More than half of the 21 total speakers prefaced their speeches by stating they didn’t intend to share their accounts initially, but the people talking before them inspired them to come up and break their silence.
Roughly 40 people in attendance at the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater offered their support for the survivors by listening intently and remaining completely silent during the speeches. Some speakers commented on how comforting the audience made the space, and that they could tell everyone was there for the sole purpose of creating a safe atmosphere.
Feeling the support and resiliency of the survivors that shared their stories, another student who requested to remain anonymous took the stage with no speech prepared. Only a freshman in high school, the student said they were raped by an 18-year-old senior.
“There was an older senior boy that was really cute and paid attention to me, and I felt really special,” they said. “But, in hindsight, I know now that was very unhealthy behavior that I didn’t recognize at such a young age. All of a sudden, he asked me on a date and I was really excited. I was 14 with an 18-year-old and I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with it at [that] age.
“He ended up taking me home [one night] and I thought that he would just take me home and drop me off. But then we were pulling into the rival high school parking lot at 10 p.m. and I didn’t know what was happening.”
Like many others who shared their stories, the student didn’t come to terms with what actually happened until later in life.
“I remember being scared, but also thinking that this was just something that you did,” they said. “It took me a very, very long time to realize that my story wasn’t my fault, because he did end up raping me. But I didn’t see it as that at the time.”
Many other speakers shared accounts of being raped, molested, assaulted or abused underage, with some stories occurring when the survivor was just a child. Recovering from this trauma is a long journey, according to some survivors. Some evoked the idea that it was one thing to grapple with the situation as a child, and it was another to grow up and live with the notion that their first sexual act was not made on their own terms.
Some speakers took time in their speeches to raise awareness to underrepresented issues and stigmas surrounding assault. The public perception of what a victim of sexual violence can look like is very narrow, according to professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Jill McCracken.
McCracken said sexual violence is not gendered, citing studies that show LGBTQ people face higher rates of sexual violence than straight women. Gay and bisexual men face higher rates of violence than straight men, but straight men experience sexual violence as well. Trans people experience sexual violence at even higher rates, according to McCracken, with some studies suggesting that half of trans people and bisexual women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
These statistics further prove the need to destigmatize common knowledge surrounding the identities of a victim, McCracken said.
Nurturing and comfort from others was prevalent throughout the night. Many prefaced their stories by stating they were reluctant to talk because their story wasn’t as serious compared to other speakers. These notions were continuously put to rest as other speakers emphasized that all stories are valid no matter the severity of the situation.
Some students offered physical and moral support by standing beside their friends at the podium while telling their stories. When recounting their experiences became too much at times, the support of another individual standing next to them, and sometimes hugging or whispering to them, encouraged the survivor to continue.
Survivors and allies held candles during a silent march around MLK Plaza to respect victims of sexual assault. The stories told echoed in the reflective silence, while also encouraging those participating to think about survivors beyond the reach of the university.
Taking back control by sharing experiences and addressing them is key to progressing toward a society completely free of sexual violence, according to McCracken. Only then can survivors truly take back the night.
“Telling our stories is powerful. And it’s important,” she said. “It not only helps us as individuals, even though it’s scary and it takes a lot of courage, but it helps us to create community and to learn together so we can create action and the steps we need to hold people accountable and to create a world where sexual violence no longer exists.
“Even as I say those words … I understand that’s almost impossible to imagine. But naming these experiences and stating them explicitly is the start for what we want our society to become. And it starts here and it moves beyond our campus. It starts with our stories, our listening and our acceptance.”
Editor’s note: The Oracle received permission from the speakers to include their stories. For privacy reasons per their requests, The Oracle refrained from providing names.