More than 200 community members marched from the Chamberlain Student Center Back Patio through campus and back with glow-sticks. Together, they walked as a united front against sexual violence.
Healthy Campus Initiatives, the Counseling and Psychological Services and many other organizations co-sponsored Take Back the Night on April 8 for victims of sexual violence to speak up about their experiences. The event included a Clothesline Project where students could decorate a T-shirt with empowering messages for survivors of sexual violence to be hung in the Chamberlain Student Center Pit throughout the week. In addition, 11 student organizations held tables on the patio with information to educate the public on the issue of sexual violence on the Back Patio and Public Safety provided information about its Rape Aggression Defense course in the Pit.
“It’s about supporting the silent survivors out there among us,” said Amy Hoch, a psychologist for the Counseling and Psychological Services Center during an opening speech. “[The event is for] those one in three females who will be sexually abused in their lifetime [and] the one in six males who will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Your participation here — you standing here tonight — says to them ‘We support you.’”
Katya Palsi, a 2013 Rowan graduate, was the keynote speaker during the event and discussed two experiences where she was involved in non-consensual activity. Palsi was 15 when she was sexually assaulted by a male attacker and was involved in a controlling relationship with a man years later.
“This is happening constantly to everyone around me, regardless of gender or age or where you live,” Palsi said during her speech. “Sexual violence does not discriminate. It just attacks you.”
After experiencing some anxiety and depression, Palsi decided to help raise awareness about sexual violence by posting statistics, stories, anecdotes and facts about sexual violence in bathroom stalls, napkin dispensers and other visible places. One night, she was caught hanging signs in a bathroom at Westby Hall in the middle of the night by a Rowan professor and was referred to Ned Eckhardt, a radio, television and film professor. Eckhardt was working on a collaborative documentary project about sexual assault and, with Palsi’s participation, the project became PACT 5 and spread across the country. Now, over 400 schools use the documentaries for orientations and to spread awareness.
“I want to help anyone that I possibly can,” Palsi said. “It’s a horrible thing to go through and no one should ever have to do anything sexually that they don’t want to do. Sex is an integral part to us as human beings and to have that choice taken away from you, it’s disempowering.”
Palsi’s speech inspired senior RTF major Leah Ly to speak about her own experience where she was sexually assaulted at a party. Ly said she has spoken up against rape culture before but has never publicly discussed her own experience.
“I have kept this in for so long that just the action of me being able to go and talk might help somebody who’s also really, really scared,” Ly said.
Senior psychology major Ezekiel Olumakin was one of the many supporters who decided to speak up during the open mic portion of the event.
“I don’t want an event like this to happen five years from now,” Olumakin said. “I don’t want an event to proliferate why we shouldn’t encourage rape culture because I would like to live in a world where that doesn’t exist.”
Olumakin said it was not difficult to get up and speak because of his strong feelings toward the cause.
“I really do love social justice and I have a passion for it,” Olumakin said. “Each time there is an opportunity to do something, it moves me to be able to share that love with other people.”
Sarah Tam, a graduate intern for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, helped organize Take Back the Night and believes this event helps participants feel connected to each other.
“Recognizing that other people also felt how you feel at a point in time, it makes you feel like you’re connected and it makes you recognize that you are not alone,” Tam said.
The Assistant Director of Healthy Campus Initiatives Allison Pearce said the event is an empowering experience for people to support survivors of sexual violence.
“Sexual violence is not OK on our campus,” Pearce said. “That’s not OK with all of us who are standing out here and it’s not OK with anybody that we know. As a community, we stand together.”
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