As the sun set Tuesday, more than 200 Richmond students gathered together to take back the night from perpetrators of sexual assault, rape and sexual violence.

The sun dipped below the horizon just as the first survivor bravely stood to speak. She was the first of many survivors of sexual assault and rape to stand and tell their stories.

“There were so many people who came up [to speak],” junior Alexandra Abreu, former Title IX intern and member of the Spiders for Spiders organization on campus, said. “It seems like this has been the most involved of the three Take Back the Nights that I’ve attended.”

Students gathered together in the university forum for the annual Take Back The Night event to honor the victims and survivors of sexual assault, sexual violence and rape at Richmond.

Abreu said that she thought events like this spoke to the potential the student body has to provide a loving and understanding community.

“The most important thing for [survivors] to know is that they are not alone," Abreu said. "There are so many people on this campus who care so greatly about them."

The cacophony of chirping birds and squawking geese that accompanied the blue, early-evening sky at the beginning of the event turned to an echoing silence once the sun set. The silence served as a reminder of the voices that were not going to be heard Tuesday night: the voices of the victims who cannot yet share their stories.

"Rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse are crimes of power, and they’re actually often labeled crimes of silence because there’s such a low reporting rate,” Beth Curry, coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy, told The Collegian. "The goal of this event is to shatter the silence."

That silence was shattered Tuesday night as those who spoke shared their stories, gave advice and spoke of their healing processes.

“We encourage you as a community to look out for each other,” Kerry Fankhauser, interim dean of Westhampton College and Title IX Coordinator, said at the event.

Take Back the Night is a nonprofit organization that works to foster safe and respectful communities. University of Richmond has supported the organization for more than 10 years by holding an open forum each year for survivors where they can share their stories with friends and other students. Take Back the Night events date back to the 1970s when events such as rallies, vigils and marches first took place to show support and respect for victims of sexual assault.

Kat Sciolla, a sophomore who helped introduce the event with Abreu, said that she hoped survivors who have yet to ask for help or tell anyone about their experiences had seen tonight that they were not alone.

“Know that no matter what, somehow it’s going to get better and it’s going to get easier, and know that when you’re ready to come forward and speak to someone, there are people here who care,” Sciolla said.

Students at the event were reminded of the various resources available for victims of sexual violence that include CAPS, campus police, the Chaplaincy, Title IX coordinators, Safe Harbor and St. Mary’s Hospital.There were also professionals standing by in case any student needed someone to talk to during or after the event.

Curry said she believed that events like these helped prove that future assaults could and should be prevented.

 “If we can all come together as a community, we can make a change,” she said. 

Contact news writer Claire Comey at claire.comey@richmond.edu