Members of the Emory community gathered at the Emory Student Center (ESC) on Monday night to support sexual assault surviors who told their stories as part of the annual Take Back the Night event. 

The event was coordinated by the Office of Respect and the Center for Student Success Programs and Services.

To begin the event, two Emory student a cappella groups, The Gathering and ChaiTunes, each performed a song relating to the topic of survivors. 

Josh Kaufmann (21PH), an Office of Respect graduate assistant who represented the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention during the event, and Co-Presidents of Sexual Assault Peer Advocates Nicole Pierce (20C) and Andy Paul (18Ox, 20C) introduced the goal of Take Back the Night. 

“Our hope is that everyone leaves this event with a drive to further raise awareness in your respective communities, universities, organizations [and] friend groups of the violence that is happening and continue to engage with our efforts to combat it,” Kaufmann said to the audience.

Maja Hasic, the anti-human trafficking program director of Tapestri, an organization that advocates for immigrants affected by sexual violence and trafficking, was the keynote speaker of the event. 

Hasic spoke about her experiences working with Tapestri and the trauma and hardships that women trafficking victims face. She explained that women who are trafficked are forced into prostitution against their will. 

Hasic highlighted the importance of extending belief to victims who have the courage to come forward and urged the audience to become leaders in fixing “broken” societal systems. She mentioned that these systems lack sufficient funding and resources for victims of human trafficking or sexual or domestic violence. For example, Hasic said that women who experience trafficking and become homeless are met with a lack of access to basic needs, like beds, as well as to support resources.

“We need to make sure that, when individuals come forward, they are believed, and that there are services and resources to assist them,” Hasic said. 

The audience members filled about 50 seats in the venue. 

During the rally portion of the event, attendees left the ESC holding lit candles and posters to march to the Emory Campus Life Pavilion. As they marched, the group chanted, “Break the silence; end the violence,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, sexual violence has got to go” and “Take back the day; take back the night,” in an effort to spread awareness of the issues of sexual and interpersonal violence. 

Once the group reached the Pavilion, an open mic “speak out” event occurred in which survivors were able to share their experiences of sexual assault. Those who submitted their stories online had their stories anonymously read by community members. 

Christine Ristaino, senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian and author of “All the Silent Spaces,” expressed her appreciation for the event in an interview with the Wheel.

“I was impressed with everyone who was there — the feeling was a feeling of trust and mutual respect and love overall,” Ristaino said. “It was quite beautiful.” 

Ristaino discussed the importance of bearing witness to and being present for each other’s stories. 

“The stories that were shared were powerful, in the fact that the people who shared those stories were able to talk about their experiences and be supported by this community,” Ristaino said.

Attendees were invited to share their stories and voice their experiences to the group if they felt comfortable doing so. However, the event organizers also stated the experiences of those survivors who decided not to share their stories are still valuable. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by violence, students can get free, confidential advocacy and support by calling the Emory Helpline at 404-727-4357 and talking with a peer on campus from 8:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m. during the school year. 

Ninad Kulkarni contributed reporting

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Layla Wofsy (23C) is from Westport, Connecticut and is majoring in political science. In addition to the Wheel, Wofsy is a member of the Emory Young Democrats executive board. She previously worked a campaign intern for a state senate candidate in her district in Connecticut. and helped lead the candidate to victory in 2018. She also worked on his re-election campaign this past summer.