By Rachel Stevens
Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students (PEERS) sponsored an event called Take Back the Night, in which students presented testimonials about experiences of sexual violence, and the campus community came together to pledge to end it.
The sixth annual Take Back the Night was hosted Monday April 15 in Pryz Great Room C, and had a relaxed atmosphere, drawing in about 30 students and faculty. Among attendees were professional staff, such as assistant dean of students Amy Love, there to support anyone who needed it before, during, or after the event.
Take Back the Night is a foundation started by women who speak out against sexual assault and violence on campuses. It means to take back the night that was taken by sexual assault or violence.
Junior politics major Katie Troilo organized the event.
“A huge part of our mission is to educate on sexual assault and violence,” Troilo said, “and through events like Take Back the Night we seek to empower those who have experienced sexual assault or violence to let them know that they have a place on this campus and that their stories should be told.”
Once everyone in attendance was seated, sheets entitled “Rights and Responsibilities” were passed out. These were for use later on in the program.
Troilo began with an opening prayer. The prayer created a feeling of safe space for all and blessed our thoughts and conversation surrounding such a difficult topic.
After the opening prayer, PJ Connolly, a senior social work major and member of PEERS, introduced the next section of the evening. He gave a disclaimer that the stories may be difficult to hear, and that there are professionals at the event to help. The professionals raised their hands in the audience and identified themselves.
Before the testimonials began, Connolly opened the floor to anyone in the community who had a personal experience they felt comfortable sharing. When no one came forward, he introduced the first member of PEERS who would read the first testimonial.
In total, there were four testimonials. Each were from women aged 14 to 33 years old. Troilo said that the testimonials read at the event were provided by the Take Back the Night Foundation. Every story involved some sort of sexual violence and their feelings about their experiences. There were lots of emotions running high in the room. Many audience members were seen wiping away tears. Even one of the PEERS members reading a testimonial choked up a bit when reading some of the graphic details of a rape.
One of the testimonials was from a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her boyfriend who she thought she could trust.
“I was convinced I was in love, and then everything turned sexual to him,” said the PEERS member quoting the testimonial.
After the reading of the testimonials, statistics about sexual violence in relation to Catholic University were read aloud. There was visible shock from the audience’s faces as a PEERS member stated that one in five women are raped during their time in college. In addition, one in every six men experience sexual violence in college. It was made clear that Catholic University is no exception to these statistics. Since 2015, 33 students have reported sexual violence on campus. This does not include the multitude of students who choose not to step forward and report their attacker.
Before the event officially began, there was a table of treats in the back of the room. Free Captain Cookie and small pints of milk were available. In addition to the snacks, there were also free resources available on the table. There was a guide to resources available for sexual assault victims on campus, as well as a guide to Title IX.
Stories similar to the testimonials read by PEERS members are also present at Catholic University. The community has resources in place through the counseling center or dean of students. As part of the Catholic University community, everyone has the responsibility to be an empowered bystander. An empowered bystander knows the three D’s of intervention. These are distract, delegate, and direct.
PEERS will continue to table in the Pryz for Teal Tuesdays. The color of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, is teal so PEERS encourages the campus to wear teal or pin a teal ribbon to their clothes. There are multiple other events happening throughout the month of April which will PEERS will be tabling for.
“Our work does not stop here,” said Connolly at the end of the event.