The flame on a candle is seen as faint and scarce on its own, but a sea of candles creates the illusion of a fire that burns noticeably bright. This was the sight on the Main Mall on April 4 as UT students and members of the community joined together in a candlelit vigil to commemorate the survivors of sexual violence in an event appropriately named “Take Back the Night.”
This event, which was hosted by UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center program Voices Against Violence, encouraged survivors to break the silence by speaking out through various forms of creative self-expression.
Events like this one are scheduled throughout April to celebrate Sexual Assault Awareness month.
According to the Take Back the Night press release, 1 in 5 women are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault while in college.
As collegiettes, it’s important to be aware that sexual violence is an issue on college campuses across the nation. Instead of sweeping the topic under the rug, this month is a chance for students to learn more about it and discuss it at their own discretion.
“It’s a horrible feeling when your family still doesn’t believe you,” said pre-public relations freshman Vanessa Pulido about the struggles she continues to face long after her encounter with sexual assault. “It’s important for me to be around people who are nonjudgmental. My roommate is like my diary.”
Sexual violence is a touchy subject for a lot of people, and it can’t be regarded lightly. Every case is different and every survivor copes in a unique way. The first step for many survivors is the decision to reach out for help, which must be done on their own terms. With so much having already been taken away from them, it is never a good idea to force someone but rather to empower them.
“A lot of the times students don’t want to report it, because they don’t want to be re-victimized. They don’t want to relive it,” said UTPD officer Darrell Halstead.
The fact that nine out of 10 occurrences of sexual assault are committed by someone the victim knows may be a factor in that only one out of 20 cases is reported to the authorities. When such a crime is committed by an acquaintance, a friend, or a partner, it can add to the anxiety of revealing the incident. It’s difficult to confess that a person you know or care for has violated you by taking away your power and sense of control.
Even if you’ve never experienced or known someone who has experienced sexual violence, that’s no reason to sit back and think, “Well, that only happens to others.” Preventing sexual violence can be achieved through simple initiatives like:
1. Making a game plan with friends before going out.
2. Being aware of what you are drinking at all times.
3. Attending the free Rape Aggression Defense class offered through the UTPD.
4. Carrying pepper spray, which can be purchased easily and cheaply.
Taking a stand against sexual violence takes support from everyone. Voices Against Violence founder and Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director Jane Bost said it best: This issue of internal personal violence is all of our issue. It’s not just for survivors; we are all impacted.
For a complete list of Sexual Assault Awareness Month events visit http://cmhc.utexas.edu/vav_calendar.html