‘Take Back the Night’ shines light on sexual violence

Xavier Lassiter – Special to the Southern News

Five minutes separated a ballroom of raucous, chatty college students from a silent, anxious assembly. Each student surveyed the room, waiting for the other to volunteer. Finally, Maayra Nieves walked to the podium and broke the silence.

“We need each other and we owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves, and I know this first hand because I experienced being at my breaking point years ago—I was raped,” she said. “I am no longer afraid to say it or talk about it, but I have never felt so alone, ashamed, and hurt as I did at that time.”

Nieves, the Students For Education Reform SCSU chapter leader, spoke about her experiences with sexual violence at last week’s Take Back the Night event. Sponsored by the Women’s Center, the event gave students a chance to learn about sexual abuse and share their experiences with it.

Nieves said Take Back the Night was originally created in 1975 to rally against the murder of a woman in Philadelphia.

“Over the years Take Back the Night has become internationally known as a way to take a stand against sexual violence,” she said. “Citizens rallied together for the first event after the murder of a young microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, was stabbed to death by a stranger no more than a block away from her own home while walking the streets alone.”

According to a Center of Disease Control study, one in five women reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives; 1 in 20 women and men experienced sexual violence other than rape.

Amanda Proscino, SCSU Speaks member, said she couldn’t believe she was sexually assaulted—it was something that just happened to other people.

“I had this kind of new level of shame,” she said. “I thought to myself ‘all these things I have been telling people they shouldn’t feel—I tell people about this, how could I be in this situation?”

Proscino said she coped with her abuse by remembering that it is a shared experience.

“It happens no matter who you are, but you should never feel ashamed for someone taking advantage of you emotionally, physically, or in any capacity,” she said. “We want all survivors to feel supported and empowered and to be honored for their perseverance and strength.”

Julian Wilson, graduate intern for the Men’s Initiative at SCSU, said he felt emasculated by being sexually assaulted.

“I was sexually assaulted when I was a child by my babysitter and all through my teenage years I felt that meant that I was weak,” he said. “At times that lead me to try to be tougher—played football to prove my manhood, I got into extra fights to prove my manhood—all because of that one moment that made me completely feel like I was smaller.”

Wilson said the prevalence of sexual assault could diminish if people were more supportive of each other.

“If we all had each other’s back how many fewer things would happen?” he said. “That’s what we call the bystander effect—we hope someone will take a stand and speak for us.”

Nieves also believed peer support was the keystone to recovery: “I honestly didn’t think that I would ever get past these feelings, but I did. I needed to reach out for support and then move forward in a way that worked for me. We may never forget, but we can pick ourselves up and heal fully.”

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