Survivors share stories of sexual violence in 34th annual SAPAC speak-out

Monday, November 18, 2019 - 12:31am

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Design by Lydia Cheng

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center held an emotional 34th Survivor Share and Speak Out Sunday evening in the Michigan League Ballroom. About 125 students, the majority of them women, attended the event, which sought to provide a supportive space for student survivors to share their stories.

Periods of silence, some lasting more than 10 minutes, were scattered throughout the event. Speak-out organizers said the silences were normal, as students worked up the courage to share their stories with sexual violence, which includes sexual assault, stalking, gender-based and sexual harassment and intimate partner violence. 

LSA senior Rachel Clark, who is a volunteer with the Survivor Empowerment and Ally Support division of SAPAC, said the silences illustrate the challenges survivors face. 

“There is a lot of long silences, and that’s pretty typical because it is so difficult to get up the courage and share your story, so that was expected,” Clark said. “They’re important, because it helps to recognize what people are going through and how difficult it is.” 

Survivors spoke candidly about post traumatic stress disorder, struggles with healing and abusive past relationships and learning to love themselves. Most also referenced unwarranted feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment. Some walked out of the room after sharing.

In a written statement to The Daily, event coordinators said the event sought to build coalition. 

“We wanted to provide a space for survivors to find support and build coalition and strength,” the coordinators wrote. “We also created a mosaic as our art project this year with the meaning to unify the U of M community and show survivors that they are not alone.”

The ballroom was dimly lit with fairy lights and filled with signs stating affirmations such as, “You are strong” and “You are loved.” Organizers also offered self-care packages full of sensory items, including chapstick and playdough. An optional debrief followed the event for survivors to destress and heal. 

LSA junior Sam Rosenblum, who is an ally, said this was his second time attending the Speak Out. Rosenblum called the experience powerful.

“Coming here a second year has been a really incredible experience,” Rosenblum said. “This event as a whole and the way it’s set up, and just how it’s all structured, is a really powerful space and something really special that SAPAC puts on.”

A majority of attendees were female. Rosenblum said despite this, it’s important to acknowledge that there are male survivors.

“I think it’s just a matter of people willing to share their stories, and I think that’s totally understandable,” Rosenblum said. “It’s important to acknowledge there are both male and female survivors of gender-based violence and sexual assault, and I think keeping that in mind, no matter what, and supporting whoever comes up to the microphone and whoever decides to share their story, is most important.”

Clark said SAPAC recognizes which types of people typically attend survivor events and tries to expand its reach to people of different races and gender identities as well. 

“We also think about that a lot,” Clark said. “What identities typically inhabit these spaces and how we can continue to reach more people, in terms of either race or gender, whatever other identities, and try to advertise to many student groups to reach those people as well.”

SAPAC offers an LGBTQ peer-led support group on Wednesdays, and will begin offering one for students of color next semester.