Attendees of the Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Center’s 32nd annual Speak Out were greeted by an atmosphere full of fairy lights, candles and the soft chords of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” this Wednesday night in the Michigan Union Ballroom. The organizers of the event said they created this ambience to make a safe space for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories.
LSA senior Nora Akcasu, a SAPAC volunteer and one of the main organizers of the event, said making the ballroom feel more inviting was something new SAPAC focused on this year.
“This year we really tried to emphasize making the space feel more comfortable,” she said. “The ballroom is such a big space, and we don’t want people to feel more intimidated than they already are to go up there and share this deeply personal story.”
Throughout the speak out, different attendees went up to the microphones to discuss their experiences. The stories had similar tones: expressing feelings of isolation, disbelief and numbness. Many of the survivors confessed that they had never spoken about their painful memories to such a large group before, and thanked the audience for listening.
Akcasu said the objective of the event was to show survivors that they are supported.
“The goal is two-fold,” she said. “It is to provide a space for survivors to share their stories and hopefully find healing in sharing their stories with other people, because a lot of the time they haven’t told anybody before.”
The organizers of the Speak Out set certain ground rules at the beginning of the event in order to keep the space supportive. All listeners had to maintain silence throughout the entire event and respect the speakers’ confidentiality. In case someone’s story proved to be too triggering for attendees, curtains blocked off a space where they could recuperate. Additionally, SAPAC advocates resided in the Blaine Room to offer support.
LSA freshman Emily DeGregorio said she attended the event to support survivors and become more aware of the sexual assault that occurs on campus.
“I wanted to support the people involved,” she said. “From what I’ve heard today, it’s incredibly moving to know there’s a big community out there and I think that it’s good that I have awareness about it too.”
LSA junior Cameron Marsh went to the speak out to tell her story of sexual assault in the safe area SAPAC provided.
“I came because I have experienced a form of sexual assault and SAPAC was there for me when I didn’t know how to be there for myself,” she said. “The Speak Out last year was the first time I acknowledged what happened to me publicly.”
Marsh said she gained the courage to talk from empowerment from other speakers and the presence of her SAPAC advocate.
“I hadn’t seen the advocate I have at SAPAC for a year basically and seeing him across the room and realizing how far I’ve come in my healing process,” she said. “I’ve come this far, so why not give a story that either someone in the room will relate to or help allies understand what sexual assault survivors go through.”
Both DeGregorio and Marsh appreciated the complete silence of the audience during the event as it made survivors feel respected and listened to.
“I liked the silence,” DeGregorio said. “It’s uncomfortable, but it’s really important to the idea of the event.”
There were over 100 seats placed in the ballroom, and almost all were filled. People were hesitant to speak in the beginning, but as the event went on, more survivors stepped up to the microphone. Marsh remarked how this event alone made it clear how many people are affected by sexual assault on campus.
“Having this event in a community so large is really eye-opening to see how many people have experienced this, even though this doesn’t even represent one-tenth or one-one hundredth of the University population,” she said.