TW: Sexual assault.
Students gathered in support of survivors of sexual assault on Thursday at ‘Take Back the Night,’ an awareness event put on by Auburn University's Office of Inclusion and Diversity and Rape Counselors of East Alabama.
Representatives from several local nonprofits and University resources spoke, including speakers from RCEA; Safe Harbor, an Auburn University confidential advocacy service; It’s On Us, a sexual assault awareness advocacy club; the University’s Title IX Office and Aniah’s Heart, a safety education nonprofit started by Angela Harris.
Speakers explained how survivors can reach out to local resources for help and how friends of survivors can encourage them to do so.
“I wanted all of you to know that Auburn University takes reports of sexual assault, sexual violence and other forms of sex-and gender-based violence very seriously,” said Katherine Weathers, assistant director at the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity. “The Title IX office is a dedicated office to address incidents of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual exploitation and other forms of sex abuse and sexual harassment.”
Weathers also gave a talk on the importance of consent.
“Consent is a clear affirmation, either by word or action, agreeing that it’s OK for a person to touch you,” she said. “Consent to sex in the past doesn’t mean there’s consent to sex in the present. Consent to one form of contact doesn’t mean there’s consent to other forms. And you cannot consent when you’re incapacitated … [which] means you’re highly intoxicated. Sex is not consensual if it’s given because of force, intimidation or coercion.”
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Other educational advice came from Harris, founder of Aniah’s Heart and mother of Aniah Blanchard. Harris said that sexual assault is a topic that is important to her, not only because of the loss of her daughter, but also because she was a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for years and a victim of sexual assault herself.
Situational awareness, Harris said, is important.
“[Sexual assault] happens all the time,” she said. “It happens on dates. It happens, just randomly, in public. You never know when you might be a victim.”
Harris suggested that students “make a plan” with their friends on nights that they go out.
However, she emphasized that while preventative measures are important, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.
“It’s the perpetrator's fault,” Harris said. “It’s not your fault. I don’t care what you’re doing. I don’t care if you’re out drinking at the bar, or whatever you’re doing. Nobody has the right to touch you [without consent].”
Two SANE nurses from RCEA, Cayley Luger and May Hutchisson, also gave information on assault and the services that RCEA offers.
Hutchisson said that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, and stressed that resources like theirs are needed because of these statistics.
Luger said RCEA has a 24-hour helpline as well as offering medical and criminal justice advocacy assistance for survivors.
Attendees were encouraged at the end of the proceedings to take a moment of silence for victims and survivors of sexual assault.
Two students in attendance, Byerly Wilson, senior in apparel merchandising, and Lucy Johanneman, senior in psychology, described the event as “very moving.”
Both students said they were aware of the local resources for survivors of sexual assault, but that they thought the speeches given were informative.
“I was excited to see Aniah’s mom speak,” Wilson said. “I’m from Homewood, [Alabama], and I graduated with [Aniah’s] brother, so I always love getting to hear Aniah’s mom speak.”
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