April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month across the country. USF is commemorating the month with workshops, group projects and informational sessions. However, Voices Rising: Survivor Speakout was the only event planned and run completely by students.
Two Fromm resident advisors, Valeria Imendia and Kyoko Van Dyck, planned Voices Rising. The event, held in Crossroads on UC first floor, was centered around group involvement, acknowledging the discomfort that comes with both sexual assault and the subsequent healing process. All but two tables in Crossroads were full of students.
From the first five minutes of Voices Rising, attendees were encouraged to write down any thoughts they might have during the event to later read on stage. Imendia and Van Dyck spoke on stage for most of the event, stepping aside only to allow student volunteers to share their experiences with sexual assault. Three students came up to share their personal experiences as victims of sexual violence.
While their stories differed, these students all shared the difficulties of healing after their assaults. They outlined the importance of talking about these issues not only during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but throughout the entire year. They explained the struggle of still feeling the pain of their assault, even after using available resources. Snaps and sympathetic eyes met the volunteers after they stepped down from the stage.
In addition to the students who volunteered to speak, all attendees were encouraged to participate in the event. Blue pieces of paper with numbers were placed on tables in Crossroads. On stage, Imendia and Van Dyck each read a national statistic on sexual assault. They then called a number, and a student with the matching blue paper would read the corresponding USF statistic. According to RAINN, the U.S.’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 11.2% of students nationwide experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. At USF, 8.8% of incoming students in 2014 reported having experienced sexual assault.
Near the end of Voices Rising, organizers asked attendees to raise the blue paper on their table if they knew someone who was a victim of sexual assault. Nearly everyone held a blue paper in the air. This doesn’t come as a surprise when 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Imendia drew on her experiences as an RA for inspiration to become involved in sexual assault awareness. “As an RA, you’re there to support and care for the residents on your floor. I’ve realized sexual assault goes unnoticed and is underrepresented in halls. I know survivors firsthand.”
University Ministry and CAPS also helped with the event. They shared a table at the event with USF resources for sexual assault victims, “I Heart Consent” stickers and paper cut-out t-shirts for the Clothesline Project. The Clotheslines Project uses paper t-shirts with written messages about sexual assault to spread awareness. These paper t-shirts will be hung in the lobbies of USF dorms and Koret as a way to destigmatize sexual assault.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month will continue at USF with “Stitches of Solidarity” on April 25, and “Denim Day Social Media Campaign” on April 26.