Last Thursday, over 200 students lit candles and listened as members of the Carleton community shared stories of sexual violence for SpeakUp, an annual campus event to raise awareness about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.
Some of the pieces read were anonymous, while others were personal stories shared by the author. Each story was read aloud to the audience. Stories were written by survivors, friends of survivors, and even students who simply wanted to talk about why sexual assault is important to address. “I’ve started and stopped my story many times,” began one anonymous submission, read by a volunteer. “It feels like what happened [to me] should have happened for a reason.”
Another story, also anonymous, expressed the “tumultuous, often wonderful, often painful” relationships that the author has had at Carleton after experiencing sexual assault, noting that the reality of her experience can “hit me like a truck at certain moments.” Another student wrote about the shame and humiliation she felt in the aftermath of sexual assault. “I thought it was my fault,” she said in her story, explaining why she did not tell anyone when the assault occurred.
Students also read stories about watching their friends struggle with sexual abuse. One reader addressed an anonymous perpetrator, saying, “you hurt my friend…you hurt her really, really bad.” She concluded, “I hope that there is more to you than what you did to her.”
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that, on average, there are about 213,000 victims of sexual assault every year in the United States. 44 percent of these victims are under the age of 18; 80 percent are under the age of 30. In addition, 60 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported to the police. “I think it’s important to give voice to people on campus who have experienced sexual violence or abuse,” said Kaaren Williamsen, the director of the Gender and Sexuality Center. She notes that SpeakUp gives people “an opportunity to talk about the issue in a way that they want to talk about it.”
The event was planned by Carleton students and the GSC. Students began meeting around mid-term break to organize the logistics of the event. This year, SpeakUp had 20 submissions, more than ever before; the average, according to Williamsen, is usually only 10 to 12. “We really wanted to create a venue where people felt safe telling their story if they wanted to tell their story,” she explained. “[Sexual violence] might not be something everyone is aware of… but there are lots of people [on campus] who are aware of it every day.”
After the event, many students reflected on the importance of the SpeakUp. “Sexual violence has never been an issue in my life,” said Molly Bostrom, ’14, “but seeing how it affects my peers made it more accessible and relevant.” After SpeakUp, however, she was “more aware [that] it’s something that happens to people I know, and people around me.”
“It’s a hard event; it’s an emotional event. It’s a moving event,” explained Williamsen. It can be “really empowering,” she says, “to see the community coming together to display that people care.”
For more information on sexual violence and assault, visit the Gender and Sexuality Center or contact a member of CAASHA (Campus Advocates Against Sexual Harassment and Assault) at x5710.