Castleton students braved a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon to rally against sexual and relationship abuse during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, proudly holding a “Not on Our Campus” banner and passing symbolic teal ribbons on their walk across campus.
On April 27, Peer Advocates for CHANGE hosted the 25th annual Take Back the Night event, comprised of the kick-off Sexual Assault Awareness Rally followed by Speak Out, an open-mic and format platform for survivors, victims and supporters to confidentially share their stories.
Most attendees of the rally were football players, as director of Pear Advocates for Change Amy Bremel informed that it is “tradition” for the team to join and show support. However, the setting quickly became more personal when it came time for Speak Out, with only about 20 people spaced throughout the 1787 Room.
There were repeated minutes of silence between volunteers, filled with hesitancy and anticipation of who would choose to share.
One willing participant, an early college student, described the experience of debating whether to speak as “nerve-wracking,” and that she confided this uncertainty with her support friend seated beside her.
“I told him how I felt like my story wasn’t valid, or I’d be judged,” she said. “That’s how I had succumbed – not because of anyone there, but because victims have been silenced so often that is the message I was given by society. When I finally went up and sat in front of the small crowd to speak, I almost felt a burden lift off my shoulders.”
Many others expressed the fear that their personal story wasn’t valid, they would be judged, or that they were somehow responsible. But as the night progressed and more people felt supported by one another, individuals realized that sexual and relationship violence comes in various forms and are each worthy of sharing.
Her story visibly moved everyone in the audience and brought many to tears, not only with empathy for the inhumanity she had endured, but also admiration for her bravery and strength.
“When I was a toddler, I was sexually assaulted by my father,” she disclosed. “Someone who I was supposed to trust and love. And be loved. But he hurt me, and I’ll never forget the pain he caused me. Many similar incidents followed, such as being stalked, being harassed, groomed, and even sexually harassed at workplaces.”
She stressed how important it is to confide in one another about sexual assault. She urged anyone seeking to help survivors to “try to see it from their perspective” and understand that “victims are often trapped in a cycle of abuse” that is difficult to escape from.
There are resources at CU for those who have experienced sexual or relationship abuse or those concerned about someone who has. The Wellness Center and PAC, including the 24/7 hotline, are available for confidential advocacy.
Take Back the Night was a way to honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month and showed guests that their stories are valid and worthy of being shared, even when it is difficult to do so.
“Honoring the month dedicated to sexual assault awareness allows an almost unspoken community of people come together and garner and provide support for themselves as well as others,” the early college student said. “Not only does it allow for people to have a platform and a voice, and a comfortable place to do so, but it also educates, and there’s never any harm in that.”