Contemplative silence punctuated by survivors’ testimony, both jarring and emotional, was the scene at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s 19th annual “Speak Out,” held yesterday evening in the Michigan Union Ballroom. SAPAC presented the event as an outlet for survivors of sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, stalking and sexual harassment to voice their experiences.

The event was designed to be a respectful and safe environment. Survivors could choose to speak in front of the media or behind a black curtain.

All received hugs and flowers from SAPAC volunteers after they told their stories. Of the audience of about 75 people – mostly, but not all, women – many cried and nodded their support for the speakers.

The focus was on breaking the silence that surrounds these issues, which are often thought of as taboos in our society.

“In our culture, women and survivors of any gender are asked to be secret-keepers, and the keeping of these secrets creates a boundary that cuts people off from themselves and others around them,” said Johanna Soet, director of SAPAC.

Survivors recalled experiences including child sexual abuse, date rape, domestic abuse and stalking. While situations varied, there were common themes.

Many survivors knew and trusted their attackers. Some said they felt embarrassment and denial about the incident or incidents. Some struggle, even years later, with blaming themselves for what happened.

For many survivors, it has taken some time to acknowledge with conviction that the abuse occurred.

Additionally, many survivors cited alcohol as a factor in their assaults but went on to acknowledge that drunkenness is never an excuse.

Some speakers said they shared their stories not only for personal release, but also to empower others. One survivor, who had been assaulted by a friend’s brother, encouraged listeners and fellow survivors to “learn from it, grow from it, let it make you stronger.” Another survivor, after recounting her harrowing experience with domestic abuse and stalking, said she hopes her story will be a “red flag” for anyone in a similar abusive relationship.

“The ‘Speak-Out’ is about breaking down boundaries and about setting them; it is about refusing to be kept in a cage and to be buried in shame,” Soet said. “By speaking or listening, we are tending to our souls and the souls of others, as we break open the silence that binds us all.”

The SAPAC 24-hour Crisis Line is (734) 936-3333.

 

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