A five minute silence fell over a crowd of more than 200 at Take Back the Night last night before one woman approached the microphone to tell her story, followed by over 15 more.

During the event, nearly 20 women got up and shared their experiences of sexual violence and rape with students and faculty gathered in the Forum. The stories varied by perpetrator, location and type of assault, but one thing they had in common was a survivor standing up for her safety and asserting her voice.

The event, which began by the a cappella group Choeur du Roi singing two songs about hope and strength, was held to raise awareness for sexual assault and give survivors a voice, Kerry Fankhauser, who planned the event, said. Take Back the Night is a venue where survivors can tell many friends their story at once and let others know that sexual violence can happen to anyone, she said.

Take Back the Night is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging respectful relationships and safe communities through its events. For more than a decade, Richmond has supported the organization by holding an open forum for survivors, friends and supporters where they can share their experiences with sexual violence.

“Sometimes I felt heartbroken to hear what people were sharing, but it was really inspiring to see such brave people tell their stories in front of everyone,” Erin Tyra, a freshman, said. ”I left feeling a new kind of respect and love for the people on this campus.”

Victims of sexual violence often suffer in silence, said Peter LeViness, director of Richmond’s psychological service, CAPS. With this event, our campus can come together in trying to end all forms of sexual violence.

It is incredibly difficult to name what happened to you and label yourself as a victim or a survivor, Fankhauser said. However, when someone speaks out, it takes control from the perpetrator and gives it back to the victim, she said.

“I’ve heard from numerous students through the years that they wait for Take Back the Night to tell their story,” Fankhauser said. “They see it as a way to give a voice to their experience and raise awareness so this campus is a safer place for all students.”

Beginning in the 1970s, survivors and activists around the world began participating in Take Back the Night events to raise awareness for sexual violence of all forms. Events have included marches, rallies and, like here at Richmond, vigils.

LeViness encouraged victims and friends of victims to come forward and tell their stories. CAPS is a confidential resource for help and support that will aid anyone who comes to them, he said.

“Please don’t suffer in silence.” LeViness said. “Reach out to trusted others.”

Contact reporter Annie Blanc at annie.blanc@richmond.edu

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