Victims of sexual assault, rape speak out at Take Back the Night

| Senior News Editor

The sound of students snapping their fingers filled Graham Chapel as Take Back the Night audience members expressed their support for a number of their peers who shared their firsthand experiences with sexual assault and rape.

The event, which began at 8 p.m. Thursday night with a candlelit walk toward Graham Chapel, encouraged students with stories on the sensitive subjects to share their experiences in a safe, sheltered space.

“Stories can range from different experiences that people might have had, if they were assaulted or raped, to their thoughts on the rape culture that’s prevalent in our society,” senior Eunice Kwon, coordinator of Take Back the Night, said. “It can either be a way to share stories or a social commentary.”

This year, organizers received a larger number of submissions than last year, with around 20 pre-submitted stories and then an open mic portion at the end for any additional students that wished to speak.

“I was actually amazed with the turnout because it’s such a personal event, and I think it’s probably really uncomfortable and overwhelming for a lot of people, so it means a lot that as many people showed up as they did,” host of the event and sophomore Maxine Kali said. “I really enjoyed the audience. They were very accepting and appreciative of everyone’s bravery.”

Students who submitted their stories, which ranged in form from poems to speeches and even a song, had the option of reading them aloud or having a Community Organized for Rape Education member read for them while they remained anonymous.

According to Kwon, receiving a large number of submissions is rarely a problem for the event, and few people choose to remain anonymous.

“About a fourth of them have chosen to remain anonymous, but usually people share their own stories,” Kwon said. “They’re silenced so much in the normal community that a lot of them want to share their stories, though I think it’s completely valid to want to remain anonymous as well.”

After a candlelit walk from Bear’s Den to main campus, students entered Graham Chapel, where T-shirts designed by CORE members depicted various statistics about sexual assault and rape. The event began with Kali introducing herself as the night’s host and then offering to share her own story.

“I’m a slam poet, so I’ve basically told my story to hundreds of people, and it’s always interesting because every time I do it, it does something different to me,” she said. “I’m not always sad or I’m not always angry, and sometimes I see it from another perspective, and every time I start speaking, I say something different and I react to it in a different way.”

“Continuing to tell my story has been a really healing process for me, and I’m happy that I have had the opportunity to do so,” Kali added.

Kwon was another one of the participants to share her story on stage. She had also participated last year but chose to share a different story at this year’s event.

“Last year, I talked about the before—what it was like before it had happened—but this year I wanted to talk about what happens after something like this occurs,” she said. “My biggest tagline is that what we don’t talk about is that we’re always living in the after.”

As students took the stage, some tearfully, audience members who agreed with certain statements or who wanted to express their support for the speaker were asked to snap their fingers instead of yelling out in order to avoid breaking the atmosphere.

Sophomore Aleks Husic, who attended the event for the first time, was amazed by the gravity of the speeches he heard.

“The people who spoke out were so courageous and brilliant. I don’t think I’d have their strength,” Husic said. “I loved what the event stood for by bringing things that people don’t want to talk about to light, and I think these issues are truly problems that need to seriously be addressed.”

Once all students had finished talking, Christina Meneses, education services supervisor for the Young Women’s Christian Association’s St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center, presented the keynote speech of the event. She spoke of the need to share individual stories and the importance of breaking the silence on topics such as these.

“Obviously, there’s always a lot of emotion involved, and it’s not exactly a happy event, but it’s a meaningful one, and that’s what’s important,” Kali said. “I think that every time this event happens, it reaffirms my belief that it’s something that needs to happen.”

Kwon likewise emphasized her belief in the importance of the event.

“It creates a safe space where people can talk about their experiences,” she said. “Sexual violence is a topic that we don’t really talk about, and I’m sure a lot of people find it uncomfortable because there’s a lot of shame and guilt attached, so it’s nice to have a safe space and designated event.”

She said the event is a good way for people not only to speak out about their experiences but also to establish a community around those experiences.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a huge group for survivors to feel like they’re a part of, but at this event, when you see so many people standing against it, it’s a great visual of the community,” Kwon said. “Based on statistics, it’s likely that a given person will know of someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped, so just attending the event in itself is a way of speaking out against it.”