A stool and a microphone rested at the foot of the UT Tower on Wednesday evening, inviting slam poets, musicians, singers and survivors to come up and speak out against sexual violence.
Voices Against Violence, a program within the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, sponsored the 10th annual Take Back the Night rally as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness month. The event brought together 300 students, community members and survivors of sexual assault with the goal of breaking the silence.
Everyone had something to gain, said Jane Bost, associate director of
“We hope to raise awareness about sexual violence, provide an opportunity for people to come together to support victims of sexual violence as well as how to put an end to it,” said educational psychology graduate student Peggy Whilde, who helped coordinate the event.
The night began with performances by student poets and musicians.
“Hopefully, by calling it and claiming it we can create a dialogue about what is causing this violence and what we can do to fix it,” Bost said.
One of these issues is the language associated with sexual assault. Defining ‘rape’ as explicitly involving intercourse or letting the victim know it “could have been worse” helps contribute to an unsympathetic public, she said.
“There is still a lot of victim-blaming for some people,” Bost said. “Saying things like ‘She’s asking for it by dressing that way’ still exists in our society. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of people to talk about because it challenges cultural values and our ideas about gender roles.”
Additionally, the transition from being labeled a victim to a survivor is hardly an arbitrary one, said social work junior Nadine Rodriguez.
“‘Victim’ has a negative connotation to it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like saying ‘I don’t have any control in my life and what happens to me.’ ‘Survivor’ says ‘I went through that, it was awful, but it doesn’t define me.’ It’s liberating.”
The performances were followed by an open mic, during which survivors and allies alike were invited to share their stories with the audience. This is empowering to both the storyteller and the listeners, Rodriguez said.
“Survivors walk around feeling alone, as if their stories are isolated and they can’t relate to anyone else,” she said. “Events like this help create a community who they can relate to.”
The night ended with a march around the 40 Acres and a candlelight vigil for all those who have been affected by sexual assault.
“We’re trying to shed light on a topic that has been put in the dark for centuries,” Bost said. “Each of us can find a way to bring light this topic and break the silence of darkness and shame.”