Keenan Thungtrakul/Senior Reporter
For many, speaking up about something that has troubled their past is not an easy task. These people want to keep it to themselves, bottling it up inside, trying to forget what happened. They do their best to hide what is underneath to preserve the integrity of what is on the outside. That is one of the hard truths about sexual assault. It leaves the victim traumatized and carries profound consequences.
At Embry-Riddle’s second annual Take Back The Night (TBTN), the goal was to create an open space where people dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault can share their stories. The hope is that their stories will inspire others to take a stand against sexual assault and be able to intervene and prevent future crimes.
Take Back The Night started in the 1970s, after the brutal murder of a woman as she was walking home. The crime sparked several protests and inspired the movement that bears this name. In 2001, a group of women who took part in the first Take Back The Night marches came together to form the Take Back The Night Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring an end to domestic violence, especially sexual and relational violence. The statistics that are linked to this kind of violence are considerable.
About 1 in 5 women and about 1 in 16 men have been the victim of some form of sexual assault, and it is thought that only about 50% of victims report their experiences. Even worse, in 93% of the crimes reported, the victim knows his or her attacker at the time of the incident.
Due to the nature of the stories, mustering the courage to open up and talk about experiences of sexual violence is not an easy task. TBTN is intended to allow these stories to come into the light and be released from the darkness. In this open space, a sense of trust and appreciation enables those who are willing to come up to the mic and share, knowing that the audience will listen to and respect the privacy of the experience. The stories that were told at this event are sensitive and carry a deeper meaning.
For some, the stories did not have a clear beginning. Recounting a traumatic experience is not easy since the memories are blurred from attempts to forget them.
For others, their stories had a clear start. All the stories had multiple recurring themes and takeaways for the audience. Themes that shone out the most were hope, courage, depression and loss. As one goes through the motions in the aftermath of an assault, he or she goes into a metaphorical valley that may take months to pass through.
With support and encouragement from friends, one can come out of the valley saying “that event does not define me, I have hope for a new future.” The most important takeaway is that sexual assault has a profound, if not permanent, change to a person’s life. It leaves a mental scar that may never heal. This scar can take the form of a broken relationship, instilled fear, or a changed attitude towards friends. The sad part of these stories is that the events leading up to the assault are very commonplace. They can be as simple as going out to a party, a hangout with friends, or a small request. Before the victim realizes what the real intention is, it is already too late. Out of anger, the evidence is destroyed and all connections dropped.
Part of the goal of AIR Team is to encourage reporting of these incidents and saving the evidence. AIR stands for Awareness, Intervention, and Response. It comes from a saying reiterated multiple times by Campus Safety: “If you see something, say something.” Members of the AIR team have a duty to spread awareness of the importance of bystander intervention and exercising methods to help prevent sexual violence and punish those that commit it. If the perpetrators are to be held responsible for their actions, there needs to be sufficient evidence to prove that the incident happened.