[Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault and rape]
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and this Tuesday JMU will be having Take Back the Night, a very powerful event where sexual assault survivors can speak out their experiences and participate in a march. Such an event is known as “breaking the silence,” and survivors are able to share their stories about an issue that is typically taboo and silenced in society. The purpose of the entire Take Back the Night and Clothesline Project events is to promote awareness of sexual assault on campus. The events are supported by First Year Involvement (FYI) and Student Wellness and Outreach (SWO), which also organized the “No Woman Left Behind” presentation in the fall which was about bystander intervention. Both the Clothesline Project and Take Back the Night are incredibly powerful events, and worth attending. Read more for more information about the unique Take Back the Night speaker, for more information about both, and for statistics about sexual assault at JMU and in the U.S.
The Take Back the Night Coalition worked with FYI to promote the Clothesline Project, which is in Transitions the first week of April, Monday through Wednesday, and Take Back the Night is Tuesday, April 3, in Grafton, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Clothesline Project consists of t-shirts that survivors have made to share their stories, hung up all over Transitions in Warren—it is an intentional display to share stories, all of which are anonymous, and is a very powerful event – some shirts are even ones that survivors wore during the assault. It is a completely silent event, and an opportunity to create your own t-shirt.
Take Back the Night is the biggest event at JMU during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Survivors share stories, and the community comes together to show support for those who have experienced assault or are secondary survivors. It includes poetry and musical performances by students—and the poetry is both written and in spoken word form. It also features an a capella music performance. This year’s guest speaker is Mark Dawson, and this is the second time TBTN has featured a male speaker. (The first was when Dr. Arnold Kahn spoke about 10 to 15 years ago). According to Lindy Bathurst, a member of the TBTN coalition at JMU, part of the intention is to gain male support, as he is a secondary survivor. Dawson will be talking about relationships, consent, and the support you can give to a survivor. He brings a new perspective to JMU and may be able to reach a wider audience. His talk will also, critically, focus on what is helpful for survivors, how to react positively as someone hearing about a loved one’s experience of sexual assault. He wants to avoid putting blame on males as a whole, as such an attitude can be isolating, making discussion of sexual assault hard to talk about, and addresses the importance of open communication and support. Part of the hope in inviting Dawson is that a male speaker talking about consent may be able to reach a wider audience and open people’s eyes to be more understanding, as it can be hard to deal with when someone tells you about being assaulted and you don’t know how to react.
After Dawson’s talk a speak out will occur—a completely anonymous session where people can share their stories and experiences which is very powerful. This will be followed by a candlelight march on quad. Each component of the event is focused on reaching a wide audience and helping people share their own stories and providing an environment of support to make this less of a taboo topic. Bathurst noted, this is a “very personal thing, and very powerful thing since you come together as a community. It can be overwhelming because it’s a heavy topic, but at the same time it’s a really good thing to provide support and help and understanding for survivors and secondary survivors.”
Sexual assault is a serious, pervasive issue worldwide, and at JMU specifically. According to TBTN’s statistics, one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, which is the same for JMU too, although this just includes reported cases. According to RAINN, one in 33 men will experience an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime. A majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, unlike the common rape myth that most rapes are done by strangers. JMU has many resources and support systems, because the problem of sexual assault and rape are so common and widespread and can affect so many people. Student Wellness and Outreach has prevention programs. CARE (Campus Assault REsponse) has a 24/7 student run hotline, where survivors and secondary survivors can speak to a peer confidentially. Varner house features free sexual assault counseling, free support groups, and recommendations for places outside of campus.
Importantly, a recently implemented judicial rule states that if you report sexual assault and you are underage, and there was alcohol involved, you will not be prosecuted for underage drinking. The implementation of this rule has raised the number of reported cases on campus (note: the number of assaults have not increased, but reportages have).
For more information, you can:
Check out the National Take Back the Night Website.
See TBTN at JMU’s facebook page for additional information.
Go to RAINN — the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network — website for more information about sexual violence in the U.S.
Edited at 9:16 p.m. to change the statement that Mark Dawson was the first male speaker at TBTN.