Disclaimer: the following story discusses incidents of violence, suicide, sexual assault and rape.
The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) took a stand against sexual assault and interpersonal violence Wednesday at their Take Back the Night event.
Take Back The Night Foundation’s mission is ending sexual and interpersonal violence in all forms by ending the silence and stigma surrounding the topic. The foundation was founded in the 1970s following a number of incidents across the country garnering media attention. Today, the foundation can be found in over 30 countries. Wednesday night, students and faculty gathered with members of FMLA in the gazebo in the Quad at 7:30 p.m. to come together to talk about and combat against the issue.
Piper Jones, co-president of FMLA, opened the event with discussing bleak statistics. One in six women and one in 33 men in America will experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime; these numbers are presumably much higher due to under-reporting of this crime. Jones added that students with disabilities are at risk at twice the rate; and that one in four students who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, questioning or other experience sexual assault after enrolling in a higher education institution.
“Tonight, we stand with survivors who were told to keep quiet,” Jones said, “and we stand up to individuals, universities, governments and societies that say rape is okay if you were drinking or wearing too short of a skirt.”
The event began with the Gender Studies Club telling Chanel Miller’s story and reading her testimony.
Miller, previously known as Brock Turner’s victim, obscured her identity for years after being raped on January 17, 2015 by Turner, a student at Stanford University and “a good student, champion swimmer and upstanding young man” as described by Judge Aaron Persky.
She was only 22 years old, had just graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and had just begun working her first job at a tech. firm.
“She had been reduced to the drunk girl at a party, known as Emily Doe and Brock Turner’s sexual assault victim, the total sum of what somebody else had done to her,” Kourtney Kotvas, president of the Gender Studies Club, said.
Turner was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault and sentenced to only six months in county jail and probation because the judge feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on him. Following his sentencing, Miller read her victim impact statement, describing in great detail the “severe impact” his actions have had on her entire life.
“Over 12 pages discussed the experience of being sexually assaulted by a man whom the legal system had more sympathy for than his own victim,” Kotvas said.
Three years after Turner’s sentencing, Miller was in the process of publishing her memoir, Know My Name. The memoir was described as being written in “vivid, punishing detail.” Prior to the memoir’s release on Sept. 24 of this year, Miller read her entire victim impact statement on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
“‘I’m not wasting time by revisiting the story; it’s my way of moving forward,'” Kayla Jesberger, secretary of the Gender Studies Club, read. “‘Once I realized that, I could breathe a little easier.'”
Members of FMLA followed Miller’s story with a letter published by The New York Times from comedian Kelly Bachman who confronted Harvey Weinstein, a known sexual predator within the entertainment industry, at a stand-up show in New York.
Upon questioning why the event organizers had invited Weinstein to the show, Bachman said she was booed, and one person told her to “shut up.”
“‘I let the room know that I have been raped and cursed at the monster I wasn’t making eye contact with,'” Maggie Calvert, co-president of FMLA, read. “‘The next day, my world blew up when a video I had posted went viral.'”
Bachman went on to say that she felt she had “let down other survivors by not punching up harder.” She then attempted to validate her own feelings, and validate the feelings of other survivors in doing so. She said she felt weak for not being able to name her assailants.
“‘I’ve hoped that the rapist from high school, the rapist from college and the rapist from my Brooklyn apartment never become powerful,'” Brooklyn Graham, a member of FMLA’s executive board, read, “‘because I’m not at all prepared to endure the consequences of speaking out against them in hopes of protecting others.”
Bachman said the first time she felt any amount of strength or healing after being raped was when a stranger on a sexual assault awareness blog said to her, “I believe you and it’s not your fault.” She then went on to explain the one thing she thinks about most: lost time.
“‘I wonder how many relationships, good grades, good schools, happy days, fun parties, job opportunities and even joyful moments onstage I’ve missed because of rapists,'” Julianna Sabol, a member of FMLA’s executive board, read.
Bachman discussed the time it takes for survivors to recover and heal, saying she feels robbed of a decade of her life because of the amount of time she’s spent thinking about the nights she was raped and that she could’ve been a comedian by age 19 had she not been raped at ages 17, 20 and 23.
She added that she feels like she has the support of “the entire world” and is proud that she spoke out against Weinstein, and that she feels like she’s gained back some of her lost time.
“‘Laughter isn’t just medicine; it’s power,'” Jones, co-president of FMLA, read. “‘If I can laugh at the monster from my nightmares, if I can laugh at the most powerful predator in the entertainment world, maybe my pain doesn’t control me as much as I thought it did.'”
The event then transitioned to personal stories from SRU students.
One student, who remained unnamed, shared her story which began on a seemingly normal day which ended with a man behind her “taking what he thought he deserved.”
“‘You know you like it,'” she quoted her attacker. “‘You know this is the only way someone who looks like you can get laid.'”
Those words, she said, permeated her every thought and affected future relationships.
She said even though she was sober, she couldn’t recall many details. She could only remember frantically getting into her car and driving away. She remembered pulling over where one of her friends was killed the year before, sitting by his marker and crying.
“Did that happen? It couldn’t have, not to me,” she said. “Why did I fight him, and why didn’t my punches break him away from me? Why didn’t my struggle break me free?”
A month later, she said, she tried to tell someone about what she had been through, someone she thought of as caring, understanding and mature. Two weeks later, he hit her in a drunken rage because a sports team lost a game and because she wouldn’t sleep with him.
“‘You’re too fat anyway,’ he said, bringing me back to what my rapist said to me,” she said.
She said she’s become stronger, but that her strength didn’t come easily. She attempted suicide four times, spent years in therapy and questioned every romantic relationship she had been in since being raped and attacked. She said she took what they “selfishly did to [her]” and didn’t let it define her.
“To the men who will not be named, I survived,” she said. “I survived you stealing the innermost parts of me. I survived you wreaking violence on my exterior. Most of all, I survived the trauma that you put me through.”
She said it took years for her to be able to talk about it; her friends didn’t find out until months later, and her parents only found out earlier this year, three years later. She never thought she’d share her story with a group of people like she did during Take Back the Night.
“To say it gets easier is a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it holds truth,” she said. “It took the events that broke me to make me who I am today.”
“I’m not the same girl you once defiled, the girl you beat because your feelings were hurt. I’m not the girl who tried to take her life four times,” she continued. “I’ve become a resilient woman who is not defined by what other people have done to her. You will never take that away from, nor will anyone else.”
Another student said she rarely left her home after being attacked, but when she did she avoided eye contact at all times, especially with men, and covered virtually every inch of her body and wore multiple layers.
“It was April, so it wasn’t ideal,” she said, “but I told myself I didn’t have a choice and I couldn’t risk it.”
She said she felt anxious at all times and couldn’t even walk down the street without panicking. She “clenched [her] fists in fear” every time a man came too close or looked in her general direction.
She said everyone in her life knew something was wrong, but she convinced herself that she couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened to her. She didn’t want to be judged or looked at differently, and she feared that no one would care or understand.
“Far too often, people get away with sexual assault,” she said. “So how would my story be any different or change anything?”
She said it took over a year for her to build up the courage to tell her parents, and they are still in pain and disbelief that this could happen to their child.
She said speaking up had a better impact on her life than staying silent would have; she’s closer to those around her, cherishes her relationships and feels blessed to have people in her life who support her and care so much about her. She added that she’s learned a lot about herself. She doesn’t view herself as a victim anymore, but instead as a survivor.
“Although what’s happened to so many of us has had a big impact on our lives, it does not define who we are or what we have to offer this world,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to use your voice; you were given the chance to use it for a reason.”
The event continued with many of those in attendance marching through campus in the rain shouting various chants in protest of sexual violence such as, “Claim our bodies, claim our right! Take a stand, take back the night!” The marchers left the gazebo in the Quad and traveled up to Smith Student Center, to the dorm buildings, past Boozel Dining Hall and back to the Quad.
Onlookers inside dorm buildings and on the sidewalk chanted with them, but some mocked the marchers. This didn’t faze the marchers though, who continued chanting and protesting proudly.
“These people are part of the problem,” a marcher said in passing. “They probably don’t realize it, but when they laugh at us and mock us, they’re enabling rape culture.”
Take Back the Night ended with a candlelit vigil in honor of survivors of sexual assault. Almost everyone in attendance received a candle, and the flames were blown out for those who are still afraid and unable to share their stories.
Calvert, co-president of FMLA, spoke to the large crowd, thanking everyone for attending and pointing out that this Take Back the Night was one of her biggest.
She continued by saying that attending the event is a great first step in fighting inequality and injustice, but it can’t be the last. She encouraged everyone to recognize that survivors didn’t ask for nor deserve to be abused, harassed, assaulted or raped. She asked them to continue supporting survivors who have shared their stories and those who aren’t ready to do so. She told them to challenge victim-blaming statements. She encouraged them to get help or directly intervene when they witness someone who is incapable of giving consent being taken advantage of.
“Consent is mandatory,” Calvert said. “Every sexual interaction you have must be consensual, no excuses. Educate yourself on what it means to give and get consent.”
She then took a moment to speak directly to survivors in the audience. She thanked the two students who were brave enough to come forward and publicly share their stories. She also reassured survivors who are unable to share their stories, telling them that their experiences are still valid.
“Survivor journeys are not linear paths to healing, and panic attacks can still happen even years after the fact,” Calvert said. “There are days you don’t want to get out of bed, and there are beautiful days that distract from and even take away the pain sometimes. These days can go back and forth or even happen simultaneously.”
“For most, it gets better, but that doesn’t mean the difficulties ever go away,” she continued with tears in her eyes. “Despite everything, you can survive sexual assault and still be a good student, the president of a club, a professor, part of student government, an advocate, a good friend, sexually intimate, a woman of distinction, a tequila connoisseur and in a healthy relationship. Or you can be none of the above, and that’s completely okay. My name is Maggie Calvert, and I’m a survivor of sexual violence.”
The Women’s and Pride Center, located in The Suite on the second floor of Smith Student Center, is open to all students who need a safe space. The Student Health and Counseling Centers, located in Rhoads Hall, are also available to students. Student Health Services is open 24 hours a day, and the Counseling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
The Victim Outreach Intervention Center (VOICe) of Butler is also available to students. VOICe is located 111 S. Cliff Street, Suite 1-A in Butler, and their 24-hour hotline is 1-800-400-8551.