The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center hosted its 16th annual Speak Out last night in the Michigan Union Ballroom. The forum invited survivors of sexualized violence to share their experiences with members of the community.

Paul Wong
An audience gathered last night in the Michigan Union Ballroom for the 16th annual Speak Out, where sexual assault victims described their experiences.

SAPAC’s members emphasized creating an environment in which survivors felt comfortable and protected enough to express their memories.

“My greatest hope is that by doing this my nightmares will stop,” said Michelle, a woman who was brutally assaulted by two men in Midland. “My daughter told me that nobody here will judge me, and everybody here would believe me and know I was raped.”

SAPAC Education and Training Coordinator Alicia Rinaldi said, “This is a somber evening, but it’s important to realize how these events affect us as individuals and as a community.”

A candle was lit and the floor was opened for survivors to share their stories. The room was silent for several minutes before the first participant got up to speak.

As survivors shared their stories of trauma and tragedy, the event became increasingly emotional for all.

“I never talked about it. I always just hoped someone would ask the right questions, but they never did,” said Kris, who was sexually abused for the first time by a family member when she was six years old. “I don’t know if you ever really get over something like this completely,” she added, choking up.

Sexual assault is an unfortunate reality on college campuses across the country. A piece of literature handed out at the forum said FBI statistics estimate that 20 to 25 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted.

One speaker expressed her frustration with the legal system after she alleged that two University athletes assaulted her.

“I went to the prosecuting attorney and he said it was my word against theirs,” Nicole said.

“He said there was nothing he could do and at least I had learned my lesson.”

People attending the event gathered in a circle at the end of the forum to pass around a candle representing unity and strength.

“We want victims to know that we’re with you and we support you,” said Rinaldi.

Many participants expressed feelings of relief and how much it meant to them to share their experiences.

“I can’t believe I kept it inside for so long,” said Jennifer, a survivor of rape. “Coming up here today was something that I really needed to do.”

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