A diverse crowd of about 100 people filled the Michigan Union Rogel Ballroom Wednesday night to listen as male and female survivors of sexual assault shared their stories at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s 30th annual Speak Out event.

The event was organized by SAPAC’s Networking, Publicity and Activism Volunteer Program, led by LSA senior Alyssa Dunbeck and LSA junior Srinidhi Subramanian. SAPAC, a University entity, trains students to act as a peer network for survivors of sexual assault and aims to advocates for social change through professional services, such as counseling and crisis hotlines, for the campus community.

Dunbeck and Subramanian opened the program by noting the survivors’ stories were confidential, and the speak out aims to provide a safe place to empower survivors to share on their own terms. They asked that only survivors of sexual assault talk in front of the audience, and defined sexual assault as an umbrella term that includes rape, stalking, sexual harassment and intimate partner violence. The Michigan Daily was asked to not quote directly from any survivor’s story.

Survivors were given the opportunity to speak at any of the microphones stationed around the space. The audience was urged not to clap, but to sit in silence as a show of respect and to reflect on the survivors’ words. Because the content shared in the event could have been potentially triggering for other survivors, SAPAC advocates were stationed outside the doors to talk if anyone needed to exit the space and survivors could go to a “debrief” after the event.

After the event, Dunbeck said she thought it ran smoothly, noting that there was never a long pause between the survivors’ sharing of stories.

“I think it went really well,” Dunbeck said. “It’s a space for survivors to share their stories and we almost had no lulls in the conversation at all. Everyone went up right after another and got to tell their story.”

As the SAPAC Speak Out is an annual event, the co-coordinators said they drew on how the event has been run in the past to ensure the continuity of the message of the speak out.

“I think in general, from our notes from previous co-coordinators, I think it’s maintained the same idea throughout, the structure of the event is pretty much the same,” Subramanian said.

Dunbeck and Subramanian ended the event by inviting audience members to place a flower on a painting of a tree at the front of the room, to show their solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. They also encouraged members to write down their stories and place them in a designated box at the back of the room if they did not feel comfortable speaking in front of a large audience.

Dunbeck said she has volunteered with SAPAC for four semesters and was inspired by her mother, who works as a police officer dealing with sexual crimes. She said she wanted to make a positive impact like her mother, and to support survivors.

“We want all the survivors to know that we believe them, we support them and if they need any help to come and see SAPAC or to call our crisis line,” Dunbeck said.

LSA sophomore Nicholas Maternowski attended the event as a SAPAC volunteer. Volunteers wore “I Believe You” buttons and directed survivors to an advocate if one was needed. He said he was pleased with how the event went, especially in terms of how sensitive the subject matter was.

“I think it went really well,” Maternowski said. “I mean it’s obviously a difficult topic for people to talk about, so it’s just very powerful to see people talk about their experiences in such a open space. It’s very eye-opening.”

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