The Georgetown community came together to hear anonymous and unedited survivor stories of sexual assault at an event titled “It Happens Here” in McShain Lounge Thursday.
The event, organized by Take Back the Night, allowed Georgetown community members to submit anonymous stories through a Google form prior to the event. During the event, TBTN members read the stories aloud.
Take Back the Night president Sarah Rabon (COL’16) emphasized the importance of the growing event, part of the Take Back the Night Week, in her introduction.
“It helps us take this issue of sexual assault and rape on campus out of the abstract,” Rabon said of the story sharing event. “We talk about it as this big scary enormous thing sometimes but it is a very real thing with real consequences on real people in our community.”
In the event’s third year, former Take Back the Night president Haley Maness (NHS ’15) said that she has noticed a changing trend in the type of story submitted by survivors. Maness said that survivors now actively name what happened to them.
“Last year we had quite a few stories that said things like ‘I’m not a survivor…but’ or ‘I wasn’t raped…but,’” Maness said. “And then they would detail stories that were classic examples of sexual assault or of rape. So it was really interesting this year that we didn’t have as much of that and that a lot people said ‘I was assaulted’ or ‘I was raped.’”
Another trend Maness said that she noticed was a shift from stories containing only a depiction of assault to a story that included reflection on how the survivor had healed. Maness described the event as being especially meaningful to an advocate such as herself whose work does bring instant results or gratification.
“It’s really powerful when you can have an event like this and you see faces you haven’t seen before and a big room gets filled and you know that even just through stories of survivors that you’ve heard there is a change, just in terms of how people are approaching it and how many people are approaching it and what they are saying about it,” Maness said.
Maness said that she was grateful to the many survivors who shared their experiences.
“I feel very honored that [survivors] felt like they were willing to share their experiences with us and that they felt like they could use this as a forum to help themselves heal and to help others heal and to help Georgetown talk about this issue,” Maness said.
Hearing that survivors are utilizing safety nets on campus in their healing processes was an especially encouraging theme during the night, according to Rabon.
“They may not be perfect or able to serve all students, but hearing students talk about having great experiences on ESCAPE, or with people like Jen Schweer, or in CAPS, or with the new I Am Ready program is powerful,” Rabon said. “People put a lot of work and effort into these things and spend a lot of time worrying about their flaws so when you hear that it is helping people, that’s just an incredible feeling.”
Attendee Michaela Lewis (COL’18) said she valued that the event portrayed the variety of types of stories that can characterize sexual assault.
“I think people do have this black and white picture of how sexual assault looks and how it’s experienced on college campuses, and I think this event showed that there is not one specific narrative that speaks for everyone,” Lewis said. “Each story is valid and deserves the same level of respect.”
Audience member Anthony Saadipour (COL’18) said that he was impressed with the raw honesty of the event.
“I think it was definitely eye-opening just because we are living under this illusion that Georgetown is a perfect university,” Saadipour said. “To hear these stories showed us that bad things do happen at our school, and a lot of times, we are afraid to talk about them, but the fact that we do proves we are trying to progress. It’s 2015, I think it’s time to dive into this dialogue head first rather than hide behind a wall of apprehension.”