At the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s 29th annual Speak Out, more than 150 attendees shared and listened to each other’s personal accounts of sexual assault and harassment.
The public forum presented an opportunity for self-identifying survivors of sexual assault to speak in a confidential setting. Common themes, such as others doubting their accounts and the importance of advocacy and solidarity emerged in many of the stories.
LSA senior Alex Barkin, a co-coordinator with SAPAC, said Speak Out provides a safe space for survivors.
“A lot of people up there speaking have never spoken before, and it’s a way for people to start thinking of ways they can heal,” Barkin said.
The event’s organizers repeatedly emphasized both confidentiality and safety throughout the session. About 20 SAPAC volunteers staffed the event and were present throughout the session in case any of the survivors’ accounts proved triggering for listeners. Professional advocates also manned a separate crisis room to serve as on-call support.
“The sharing that takes place is emotional and powerful, and we need to make sure that survivors are in a safe space,” she said.
Survivors echoed similar sentiments.
“We’ve all been through so much of the same,” one survivor said. “This bond we have, even if it’s the worst bond ever, is still amazing.”
LSA senior Kara Kundert, a SAPAC peer facilitator, noted that Speak Out often empowers survivors to begin working toward institutional change.
“The advocacy work being done, especially by student survivors, comes out of spaces like this,” she said. “Having Speak Outs helps people cleanse themselves.”
SAPAC and the University have worked together in recent years to bring additional awareness to sexual assault on campus, creating programs like Relationship Remix, a mandatory seminar for first-year students. However, attitudes toward the administration’s treatment of students’ experiences on campus varied. Some speakers found that coming to college provided new insight regarding the definition of assault.
“It took this campus to teach me the appropriate terms and to understand what happened to me,” a survivor said.
Kundert pushed for more services for student survivors, especially in light of the ongoing federal investigation into the University’s handling of sexual misconduct.
“This is important especially on a college campus where it’s so prevalent,” Kundert said. “And SAPAC has five staff members … for 40,000 people.”
Barkin also stressed the importance of Speak Out and survivor care on a large college campus.
In 2015, the University participated in two surveys designed to gauge the campus climate related to sexual assault. A survey conducted by the Association of American Universities found that 14.6 percent of University students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact as a result of force or incapacitation since entering college.
“22.8 percent of (female) students identify as survivors of sexual assault … so you could have a 100-person class and 22 people with you are survivors … It affects everyone, regardless of identity.”