Emory students, staff and faculty gathered on the Dobbs University Center (DUC) Terraces yesterday evening for “Take Back the Night,” an event centered around giving a voice to survivors of sexual assault.
The annual event is held during Domestic Violence Awareness month, according to Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) member and College junior Nikki Pendleton.
Student groups ASAP and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) worked in conjunction with Emory’s Respect Program to make this event happen, Pendleton said.
According to Pendleton, the event is held each year to give survivors of sexual assault the chance to share their stories. The hope, she said, is that this event will show people that sexual assault does happen but can be prevented.
The event was introduced by ASAP presidents College seniors Leah Regenbaum and Lauren Weinberg. The latter said the Respect Program acts as “agents of positive transformation and change.”
They then asked the audience to show respect for participants by keeping the stories shared confidential and confined to the safe space created by the event.
Students, faculty and staff stood as one large group in a moment of silence for the survivors led by Lauren Bernstein, Emory’s coordinator of sexual and relationship violence prevention education and response.
Audience members filled the eight rows of approximately 10 chairs set up for the event while a larger crowd gathered around the terraces and on the DUC stairs to find a better view of the speakers at the podium.
University President James W. Wagner and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair read the first two in a series of stories of anonymous students and their accounts of their sexual assault experiences.
Nair read an anonymous student’s story that argued that “love shouldn’t hurt like that,” referring to abuse and sexual assault.
Another anonymous story read by Scott Rausch, director of residence life, claimed that “most people believe that women don’t commit sexual assault,” in discussing hardships the survivor went through in seeking support.
Tissues were passed around the crowd and staff from Emory’s counseling center as well as SAPA members stood by for emotional support as accounts were read both anonymously by volunteers and by the survivors themselves.
College sophomore Elyssa Hausman read a student’s story and recounted how hard it was to feel that she was not doing the survivor justice in her reading, and the intense emotion that arose with her realization that this story may belong to someone she knows.
Hausman added how thankful she was to those who opened up and shared their stories.
“It’s not everyday that someone can stand up and take back the night, but tonight was their night, and now the night is theirs,” she said.
College senior John Sabbas, on the other hand, shared a personal story based on sexual assault experienced by his significant other.
According to Sabbas, he was speaking on behalf of both himself and his significant other to show how sexual assault affects not only the survivor but also all those involved.
Sabbas said he was nervous to share something so personal in such a public location and believes that many men would normally shy away from this topic as sexual assault is typically attributed to cases where women are the survivors.
Take Back the Night included stories about, and read by, both men and women.
After the event, audience members were encouraged to write on post-its something they took away from the event in exchange for blue wristbands that represent “breaking the silence,” according to Regenbaum.
The plan, according to Weinberg and Regenbaum, is to post these notes around campus to spread the messages of survivors and to show the community that everyone can get involved in the mission to stop sexual assault.
As the event came to a close, College junior Keenan Jones told the Wheel that it was a powerful experience to hear fellow students speak about their lives in a way that is not typical of everyday conversation.
“To see people open up like that was beautiful,” he said.
College senior Sarah Mosby also attended the event and said that, being SAPA trained, she sees the importance in listening and supporting survivors and their stories.
“Everyone must remain aware of these incidents and the structures and norms that may prevent survivors from getting the help they need,” she said.
– By Naomi Maisel