“Around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students,” according to the campus sexual assault page on Michigan.gov. Even more disheartening, nearly 95 percent of all sexual assault cases end without a perpetrator going to jail or prison, according to the DOJ.
Without a doubt, sexual assault cases are the most difficult to approach — particularly, for victims reluctant to come forth and report the abuse — and for society at-large hastening to judge and hesitant to give creedence to their experiences.
The combination of falsified accusations made by the few, exceptional individuals, and the media’s incessant coverage of perpetrators (i.e. Nassar, Epstein, Weinstein etc.), has indeed distorted public compassion and consciousness of actual victims. The blame has been shifted and directed at those suffering in silence. In reality, it is not our prerogative to play judge-and-jury, but rather, it is our moral obligation to seek and provide help for those enduring intolerable spiritual and emotional wounds.
On October 23, an event called Take Back the Night was hosted at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in the Kochoff Hall, “for survivors of sexual assault, supporters of survivors, and all those who seek to put an end to sexual assault and domestic violence.” The event was coordinated by UM-Dearborn’s Center for Social Justice & Inclusion, and WILL (Women in Learning and Leadership). Over 100 attended, including staff, students, local and campus organizations.
Powerful spoken word pieces were performed by Camille Rice and Brittany Richmond, both of whom, shared chilling pieces of their traumatic experiences. Their messages were clear: believe.
“Can you fix me?” said Rice. “I am a broken piece of a-something that I once had, but I
no longer possess. Isn’t it hard to breathe when there is something missing from your soul?”
Rice bravely shared her story by reliving the agonizing pain afflicted upon her as a child. Her poem elicited an empathetic resonance among the audience, and subconsciously, provided others with the courage to express themselves.
Richmond demonstrated how mental and verbal abuse affects victims long after an incident occurs. She instructed six participants to crumble a piece of construction paper and throw it to the ground. They each yelled pejoratives at the papers and re-opened them to symbolize how torn a person’s body can become after enduring such mental and physical abuse. Afterwards, they reversed roles and acted as helpers, using positive comments to offset feelings of torment. All seven women repeated the phrase after another: “I believe you.”
Richmond also defined believe as acronym for recovering survivors: (B) be, (E) empowered, (L) loved, (I) incredible, (E) esteemed, (V) venerable and (E) enough.
Benita Robinson, Director of Crisis Service & Outreach at Wayne County SAFE, and Machelle Pearson, a featured community member, were also among several other speakers for the event.
Pearson served a 34-year prison sentence, starting when she was a teenager. She was robbed of her innocence long before she had a chance of leading a “normal” life. Her message: “If I’m still standing. And if I’m still standing, I know you can still stand. Don’t put another person before you. Love yourself. Reach out for help.”
Robinson directed her message toward the healing process for survivors. “Imagine navigating the world for 60 years and not telling a soul that you were violated as a child?” She said the goal is getting to a place where sexual assault doesn’t define you. Making sure that consent is communicated clearly to all parties engaging in copulation was also emphasized in protecting your individual rights.
Take Back the Night, also featured a peaceful walk and protest around campus from the University Center to the Administration Building and onto the Union building. The walk ended with a candlelight vigil, a few chants (“Hey hey, ho, ho–sexual assault has got to go”) and a moment of silence for domestic violence survivors and those who didn’t make it.
Chanel Stitt, Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Journal, believes that Take Back the Night refers to “things that happened behind closed doors… darkness.” She says that the event itself has come to symbolize shining light and hope for those who need healing. Taking back control over our lives.
Leah Higgins, Opinions Editor at MJ, felt that the goal of TBTN was accomplished but added that “our campus and society has so much more to overcome to really provide the safe space everyone, especially survivors, deserves.”
Indeed, we do have a long way to go. As a society, raising awareness is the first step to creating more safe spaces for people, and establishing boundaries to end this traumatizing cycle. The best thing we can do as a community, is believe someone when they tell us they’re hurting. We need to ensure that our personal thoughts don’t prevent us from being a part of someone else’s healing process.
UM-Dearborn offers various counseling services and support groups, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Women’s Resource Center to provide help for survivors on campus.
If you feel you are being victimized and/or endangered, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), located on 5635 W. Fort St, Detroit, MI, provides free counseling services and classes to help manage and relieve stress, particularly for Latina and African-American women. Contact Lillian A. Roa, Sexual Assault Clinician at 313.849.3920 for more information.