More than 100 people gathered in Waggener Hall as performers, speakers and community leaders commemorated and celebrated sexual assault survivors Wednesday night.
Voices Against Violence, a student group connected with the Counseling and Mental Health Center, held its annual Take Back the Night event as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“The most important part to me is supporting survivors and giving them a chance to talk about their experience where everyone will support them,” said Alison Aydin, Voices Against Violence co-president and human development and family sciences senior. “Anyone who’s a survivor can walk by and see there are people who really care about this and will support and believe in you no matter what.”
Sexual assault victims discussed the difficulty behind wondering what they had done wrong, feeling shame, contemplating the meanings behind being called a survivor or victim and how the coping process differs for each individual. Sexual assault victims shared their stories through an open mic or submitted their stories anonymously online to be read aloud by a Voices Against Violence volunteer.
“I really appreciate that it’s a nonmandated reporter area so people feel safe to share their experiences without the fear of being reported,” public health sophomore Kierstyn Gallegos said. “They also allow you to report something anonymously if you’re not ready to talk about it or identify it, but you still want to get your story out there.”
Community and campus sexual assault resources, including SAFE Alliance, Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Not On My Campus, UT’s Title IX Office, Interpersonal Violence Peer Support group and the CMHC provided resources at the event.
“It’s a time for people to come together and speak about their experiences, but it’s a time for community healing,” said Leah Leeds, a CMHC clinical social worker. “It’s an event with a lot of creativity and flexibility to it. It’s accessible and open to communities. People can participate as much or as little as they want. There’s a lot of choice.”
Marginalized groups are disproportionately likely to be affected by sexual violence and less likely to have access to resources, Gallegos said at the event. Resources for marginalized groups included a speaker acknowledging Native American communities and an Asian Family Support Services of Austin table. Sign language interpreters translated throughout the event.
“To any survivors here tonight, we acknowledge that what happened to you wasn’t your fault, and we’re here to support you,” Aydin said.