August Pelliccio – News Writer
Violence Prevention, Victim Advocacy and Support (VPAS) Center student workers Kristina Filomena and Sabrina St. Juste said, respectively, supporters of Take Back the Night are tired of being silenced, and years of silence will not make an assault survivor forget.
Filomena, a senior, said her investment in the evening’s event was support for fellow survivors.
“I try to use my role as an advocate and an ally,” Filomena said, “to not share my story, but instead empower other people to share their stories.”
Filomena said about a year ago someone close to her took her advantage of her body; she was groped inappropriately, she said, while standing in line with friends at a water park.
“When I finally processed what had happened, and confronted him on it,” Filomena said, “the comments that he made were, ‘it’s not like I raped you,’ or ‘you’re making it seem like I raped you.’”
She said she thinks about the exchange to this day, and even despite her work in the VPAS Center, she said she is still working on being comfortable with talking about it.
“I feel this night is special because you really see not only the unity in Southern,” said Filomena, “but the people who might have been terrified to share still come up and know that their voice makes a difference.”
Filomena said it is very empowering to know that there are people out there who are tired of being silenced.
The VPAS Center’s description of the event, as written on Southern’s organizational calendar webpage, is a dedication to providing an empowering space, for survivors of sexual violence. This year, according to the page, marked 21 years observing the event at Southern.
The evening began with the collection of students and faculty, survivors and sufferers, supporters and allies joining together to march across campus, from the student center, to the academic quad.
“Join together, free our lives,” the crowd chanted, “we will not be victimized!”
When students settled into the academic quad, several students from the VPAS Center spoke about the event’s nature, before inviting students to speak up with their stories.
Three minutes and 25 seconds of complete silence followed, before anyone took the microphone. One of the hosts, David Varian spoke up as an ally, to encourage students to approach the microphone.
Varian, a senior, said he attended Take Back the Night to stand with fellow resident advisers in support of students sharing their stories. When he was asked to help host this year, Varian said, his experience with survivors inspired him to take action.
“As someone who knows a lot of people who have been through it,” said Varian, “I thought it
was a really great opportunity to be an ally and empower other people to be allies.”
Varian said Take Back the Night is important not just to this campus, but everywhere. An event of its nature, he said, should take place at as many institutions as possible.
The official website for the Take Back the Night organization lists every official event holder. The total number of institutions that observe the event, according to the website is 306 worldwide.
This was the third year Varian said he has been a part of the event at Southern. He said he felt, during the fist time he attended as an audience member, the same way he felt about this year’s survivor and ally stories — empowered and inspired.
“I think I can have a big voice and be an ally,” said Varian. “If I step up, then other people can say, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”
Secretary for Peer Educators Advocating for Campus Empowerment (PEACE), St. Juste is a senior now, but said she got involved planning Take Back the Night in the fall semester of her sophomore year.
“What inspires me to be a part of the event the most,” said St. Juste, “is the fact that I myself am a survivor.”
Being a voice for the people who chose not to speak and being a voice of encouragement are the goals St. Juste said she had, in respect to sharing her story as the night’s keynote speaker.
Also, she said, she wanted to advocate for the resources available to victims of sexual misconduct on the campus.
“I’m not saying that I’m a success story, because I’m still in the healing process,” said St. Juste. “I have gotten better.”
St. Juste said her experience with assault began when she was 8 years old. She said she spoke about nothing regarding the assaults even through high school.
“I felt like I lacked a lot of identity,” said St. Juste, “which is why I went back and forth with my self esteem.”
The silence she maintained built a depression, St. Juste said, and at one point in high school, she began having suicidal thoughts, with increasing frequency.
“I didn’t even think that I would make it to 16,” St. Juste said.
Now, St. Juste said, she wants to students to know that is does get better.
She said when she came to college at Southern, the resources available such as the VPAS Center and Counseling Services offered her the help she needed. According to St. Juste, April 18, 2017, at Southern’s Take Back the Night event was the first time she ever broke the silence about her assaults from the age of 8.
“Being silent didn’t make me forget,” said St. Juste. “It does hurt as if it was yesterday, but with time it gets better.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio