By: Taylor DeVille, Associate Arts & Life Editor
Passing through Freedom Square Tuesday evening, students might have glimpsed a collection of T-shirts hanging between the lampposts. In big, bold writing, the shirts carried messages from the sexual assault survivors who made them — “You are not alone.” “I survived, I am thriving.” “You molested me… but you didn’t break me.”
Sponsored by the Center for Student Diversity, students and faculty came together during Take Back the Night to create a safe space for survivors of sexual assault to share testimonials and for friends to offer words of support.
“It’s important that we have a public space where we honor and support survivors of sexual violence,” CSD Associate Director Mahnoor Ahmed said.
Take Back the Night is a non-profit committed to ending all forms of sexual violence, according to their website. Take Back the Night events are held in 30 countries around the world and on over 600 campuses and communities.
“Sexual assault is so underreported and rarely talked about, and a big part of changing our culture is changing that fact,” said Chelsea Wiggins, college and prevention policy attorney for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The common figure that’s usually cited in sexual violence statistics is that “one in five” college-age women will be sexually assaulted.
That statistic has its roots in a 2007 study conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (from surveyed students at only two colleges), whose reliability has been heavily criticized by the National Academies of Sciences.
Many experts agree that one in four women in college will be sexually assaulted.
The Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault Peer Educators helped set up the event. The T-shirts that decorated the square had been collected over the years during the SAPE Clothesline Project.
Along with the SAPEs, members from the local sexual violence resource center TurnAround Inc., the Title IX office and MCASA tabled during the event.
Students and non-affiliates took the microphone to talk about their experiences, read a poem, or offer words of support.
“We think about how to make the program more inclusive every year, and also more and more survivor-centric,” Mahnoor said.
Many of the women who spoke revealed similar things—being invalidated by friends, facing unhelpful police officers and school officials and feeling frustrated with a lack of resources.
Survivors who spoke also expressed sentiments of solidarity and resilience.
“He took four years of my life—he’s not taking one more,” one student said to supportive cheers.
“It’s important that we, as allies, listen and say, ‘I believe you,’” said junior and lead SAPE Kora Rea. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable reporting because they feeling that they’re going to be shamed by others and told ‘I don’t believe you.’”
The event comes during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, just days after an all-male committee in the General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have allowed victims of sexual assault the right to block the parental rights of rapists to their children.
Still, survivors who spoke at the event celebrated the other bills that were passed, including one that removed a centuries-old law that previously dictated that a survivor prove they resisted their attacker in court. Attendees huddled together during a candlelight vigil in honor of those who have survived sexual violence, and to remember those who have not.