About 300 people filled the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom Tuesday night for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s 28th Annual Speak Out — one of the largest Speak Outs to date. Speak Out is an annual event aimed to offer survivors of sexual violence a safe place to share their stories.
The Speak Out recognized rape, sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment and intimate partner crimes as “sexual violence.” LSA senior Katelyn Maddock, co-coordinator of SAPAC’s Networking, Publicity, and Activism Program, said in her introduction that this definition is not exhaustive.
Maddock and her co-coordinator, LSA junior Anna Forringer-Beal, also assured attendees that the event was a “strictly confidential space.”
Survivors were then given the floor. All was silent at first. In time, a survivor stepped up to the microphone.
In the past, University staff and employees attending these events have been required to report incidents of sexual violence in all situations. However, the University’s Office for Institutional Equity now allows University staff and employees to attend public awareness events and events like Speak Out without having any obligation to report incidents to the University.
“Sexual violence isn’t something that’s talked about a lot,” said University alum Lindsay Walker, an attendee. “I think that U of M, having SAPAC as a resource, is really progressive compared to a lot of other universities in that it supports talking about it and having resources for students to go to.”
Walker, who currently works at Planned Parenthood, joined SAPAC as a sophomore at the University after hearing about it from a friend she met in class — the same friend who sat next to her Tuesday at the Speak Out.
“It was just a really good experience for me,” she said.
In addition to providing survivors with a safe place to discuss their experiences, Maddock said Speak Out encourages people to take action.
“When you come to events like these, you realize that behind every number, behind every statistic, is a person, a person who has a face and a story that’s uniquely theirs,” Forringer-Beal said.
Action comes in different forms, she added. It could mean volunteering with SAPAC, organizing events, working at Safe House Center, an organization that offers support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, working on public policy or court cases, journaling or producing art that “breaks the silence.”
Maddock added that calling out those who joke about assault is also an action to counteract negative influences.
“Every time you challenge those mentalities, you’re changing something,” Maddock said.
Rackham student Ali Chetwynd, who donned a pink heart on his shirt, is a volunteer for the Networking, Publicity, and Activism Volunteer Program. He welcomed visitors to the event as a doorman and ensured that survivors sharing their stories were not interrupted by the opening and closing of the door.
Chetwynd said Speak Out is a unique SAPAC event.
“This is just one of those events where SAPAC itself is essentially silent. This is an event where people, survivors themselves, are able to come and speak out,” he said. “One of the important things about this is that it’s a space dedicated purely for them to speak, be heard and recognize themselves in other people on campus as well.”
In addition to Speak Out, SAPAC has other forums that work to counter sexual violence on campus. They have a dialogue series that gives targeted communities, such as those of people of color and the LGBTQ community, an opportunity to share their stories.
“We really just want to get the message across that SAPAC is here, we have resources for people, and we’re here for the students,” Forringer-Beal said. “We’ll do everything we can.”
The University offers many resources for counseling and reporting for survivors of Sexual Assault. A listing of available services can be found here. In addition, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staffs a 24/7 crisis line at (734) 936-3333.