By Emily Lim
Trigger warning: sexual assault
Emory’s annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) speak-out rally supported sexual violence survivors on Monday evening on the Dobbs University Center (DUC) terraces.
The Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) hosted the event, which has taken place annually for the past decade in the fall semester. TBTN offers students the opportunity to share personal stories of survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence at Emory.
University President James W. Wagner, Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair, Assistant Director of the Office of Health Promotion and acting Assistant Director for the Respect Program Drew Rizzo and representatives from ASAP and SAPA spoke at the rally.
Emory community members had the opportunity to share their personal experiences of sexual assault or submit their stories anonymously to be read by a volunteer via an online link. The aim of the event, according to SAPA Executive Board Member and College junior Emma Kern, is to raise awareness of sexual assault, stalking and harassment, and for the community to support not only the survivors but also each other.
“Violence is not acceptable and it never will be,” Wagner said. “Every member of the community must be involved.”
Speakers emphasized that survivors of sexual assault were, above all, survivors and not just victims.
The event organizers asked members of the rally to keep the identities of the speakers and their accounts of sexual assault private. Many stories were submitted to be read anonymously by volunteers. Accounts of sexual assault ranged from date rape to incidences of sexual assault by family members. Boxes of tissues were passed around the crowd, and some members of the audience left the event in tears.
In an email to the Wheel, Rizzo suggested that in addition to attending such events, education about bystander intervention is an important second step.
“We must start by identifying and challenging aspects of our current culture that are abusive, marginalizing and unjust towards members of our own community,” Rizzo said.
In addition, Rizzo suggested that students should sign up for a SAPA 101 session, which provides training to students about how to help survivors of sexual assault and is free of charge and open to all Emory community members. Students can sign up for sessions on the Office of Health Promotion website. Rizzo also mentioned that the annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) will be held in April.
Upcoming events related to ending sexual violence include student group Feminists in Action’s (FIA) “Carry That Weight Together” campaign, which will take place at this week’s Wonderful Wednesday on Asbury Circle. The campaign will be held to show solidarity for Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, a survivor of rape, who has vowed to carry a mattress, like the one on which she was sexually assaulted, until her rapist is expelled.
College sophomore Ian Kraus said he found the event powerful and moving. The event also inspired him to take action.
“It made me more mindful of how I act; it made me realize that not only am I responsible for my actions, particularly where drinking is involved, but also for those of people around me,” Kraus said.
He related to a personal experience in which he did not check up on a female friend who was drunk and said the rally made him regret the decision.
Others were shocked by the scale of sexual assault that occurs on college campuses.
“It was shocking and unbelievable,” College freshman Kemjika Echebelem said. “The accounts really touched me because hearing about the horrid experiences of sexual assault [survivors] forces you to step back and be genuinely grateful for your life.”
Survivors of sexual assault can speak to SAPA representatives, who train students to help survivors, or Emory’s Respect Program, whose mission is to engage the Emory community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and relationship violence.
If you or someone you know has been affected by violence, students can get free, confidential advocacy and support by calling CAPS 404.727.7450 and asking to speak with the Respect Program Advocate.
â€” By Emily Lim, Staff Writer
This article was updated on Oct. 28 to correct Andrew Rizzo’s title. The article originally said he is the Chancellor for the Respect Program. He is actually the Assistant Director for the Respect Program.
This article was updated 10:21 p.m., Oct. 30 to reflect a change in the name of College freshman Kemjika Echebelem. It was previously Kemjika Ticho.