One in three women and one in six men in the United States experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Throughout April, events at the University of South Florida will bring attention to the issue as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
It started Tuesday with Take Back the Night, a USF tradition where survivors of sexual assault share their experiences. The event included the survivor speak-out, a candlelight vigil, and a silent march to honor those who have faced sexual violence.
The student organization NITE (Network Improve Transform Empower) has put on the speak-out for the last thirteen years. But group officials say, with more women coming forward with their stories in all walks of life, it is important that colleges provide a way for students to do the same.
“With the rise of #MeToo and...a lot of those in the public eye being accused of sexual assault, there needs to be more of a narrative on campus and a space for students to feel like they can talk about their experiences,” said Saron Musa, NITE president.
Keynote speaker, associate professor Michelle Hughes Miller, talked about how many of her students had come to her with stories of sexual assault. She highlighted the importance of awareness and public involvement in overcoming violence at universities.
“If we truly want to take back the night, we must also commit to taking back our campus,” said Hughes.
Another event featured a display on the library lawn of red flags which represented warning signs of abusive relationships. Students, faculty and staff wrote experiences on the small banners. They were provided by the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, which gives free and confidential services to the USF community.
“It’s not just one person’s responsibility, or one department’s responsibility. It’s everybody’s responsibility to have that awareness,” said Almendra Kniep, student assistant at the center.
She stressed that if people see something, they should take the initiative to say something.
“Always keep an open mind. Sexual assault isn’t something that is easy to talk about, and not a lot of people are comfortable talking about it. But again, it is something that is very important and it does happen on college campuses, and our own campus,” said Kniep.
Sexual assault on college campuses is also a topic of discussion in the U.S. Senate as a bipartisan coalition of senators plan to reintroduce a bill that addresses the problem.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would establish new resources and support services for students, make uniform campus disciplinary processes and create historic transparency requirements if passed. The Act originally was proposed in 2017 but died in committee.
Other awareness events going on at USF this month include:
Bystander Intervention Training
Hosted by: Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention and College of Public Health
When: April 4th at 5-6:30pm
Hosted by: Center for Student Well-Being and Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention
When: April 11th at 12:30-3pm
Where: Cooper Hall
Take Back the Stage
Hosted by: The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay
When: April 20th at 2-4pm
Where: The Portico, 1001 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33602
Hosted by: The Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention and participating departments
When: April 24th at varying times