Local human rights activist Luz Guerra said increased awareness has not translated into decreased instances of sexual violence at the 13th annual Take Back the Night event on the South Mall on Wednesday.
“There is now more information, there are places to go for support, there is more openness and talking about it,” said Guerra, the event’s keynote speaker. “But we still have not brought down the amount of sexual assault that occurs in our society.”
According to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 percent of female undergraduate college students admitted experiencing attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.
Guerra said she believes the existence alone of outreach programs such as Voices Against Violence, which hosted the event, shows the change that has occurred in the past 30 years.
“In 1973, there was no gender sexuality center, no LGBT support system — not even a women’s studies program,” Guerra said. “Those institutions exist because people fought to have them instituted and funded.”
Guerra said she believes students have the power to change attitudes toward sexual violence on campus.
“The only way we can change the world and this campus is coming together and telling the truth about the stories of sexual violence in this world,” Guerra said.
Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence, said she hopes the event empowers people to stand up against sexual violence.
“We all have the power to address an issue that can sometimes feel overwhelming,” Burrows said. “It really starts with looking at our own behavior and how we hold ourselves accountable to practicing consent in every interaction that we have.”
Sydney Wilkins, a Voices Against Violence volunteer, said Take Back the Night provides the opportunity to hear from survivors of sexual violence.
“The best part of Take Back the Night is that it empowers survivors to speak about their own experiences,” Wilkins said. “You’re hearing how people really feel, not other people’s bias coming into the story.”
Guerra said change is needed to make sexual violence less of a threat.
“Sexual assault happens, and you have a right to not be afraid when you walk down the street at night,” Guerra said. “So let’s take back the night.”