Freezing temperatures, wind and swirling flurries of snow did not stop about 25 students and Ann Arbor community members from gathering in the Diag for a candlelight vigil in support of sexual assault victims Wednesday night. The event was organized by the Sexual Assault Victims Alliance (SAVA), in conjunction with The Michigan Democracy Institute for Civic Engagement and Roe v. Rape.
In order to protect the privacy of the speakers, they will be referred to only by their first names.
In an interview with The Daily, Candice, Eastern Michigan University student and an organizer of the event, spoke about the construction of the vigil.
“We wanted to have some kind of display that would show how many victims there are at U of M and how common it is here,” Candice said. “We thought that the candlelight vigil would be really awesome.”
Candice said events raising awareness of sexual assault are valuable for decreasing stigma.
“I think that events like this are super important, especially with taboo issues like sexual assault,” Candice explained. “When no one’s talking about the issue … you don’t really know that it exists — that people are struggling with it. Because no one is really open about it, so these events do a lot to educate people who maybe would be and will be our allies, but they don’t know what the problem is.”
She also expressed her surprise at the amount of enthusiasm she encountered while organizing the event.
“Almost every person I reached out to was really excited about it. I had really good engagement,” Candice said. “People were really excited and were really willing to contribute to the event, which I wasn’t really expecting.”
Organizers set up an altar of candles, surrounded by bags with various customized messages and flanked by several signs that contained messages and statistics about sexual assault at the University of Michigan from the 2019 Campus Climate Survey.
One read “34.3% of Umich Undergraduate Women Experience Sexual Assault,” and another said that more than 5,000 women at the University have been sexually assaulted.
Four students spoke in front of this altar about their experiences with and the stigmas attached to sexual assault.
One common sentiment was frustration with the University’s dealing with sexual assault. A speaker discussed the University’s policy that requires victims of sexual assault to face cross-examination on behalf of their accused perpetrator. The policy came after a 2018 ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court mandating the change.
Another speaker said she “realized over a year ago that (she) couldn’t name more than 5 friends” of hers who had not experienced some form of sexual assault.
Anil Bansal, Engineering senior and co-founder of SAVA, clarified that sexual assault is not only a problem that affects women.
“Even though a lot of people think that this is just an issue for women, it’s not … A lot of my best friends have been sexually assaulted and it’s hard on me to see that … and realize that there’s not much that I can do about it,” Bansal said.
Jessica, a prospective University transfer student from Henry Ford Community College, spoke at the event. In an interview with The Daily, she discussed the emotional impact of her speech.
“I’m happy that people ended up staying around (in the bad weather),” Jessica said. “The first thing that Anil said to me after I read my speech was that I made him cry. That was the first time that I had given my speech to anybody.”
Candice emphasized that they were planning on holding more events in warmer weather, specifically one in the summer. Candice then gave advice to anyone who feels the urge to help victims of sexual assault.
“I want people to know that if you’re a person who hasn’t experienced sexual assault or sexual violence, but you want to be an ally, the best thing you can do is be a friend,” Candice said. “Even saying something as simple as like, ‘Hey, I went to a vigil, or I read this article and it was really interesting.’ You can start that conversation even if you haven’t had the experience. People will open up to you and people will come to you. You will make them feel less alone.”
Reporter Peter Hummer can be reached at email@example.com