Several Tech students characterized their lives as silent, confused and broken until they could “shatter the silence” on Monday, March 7, 2011.
Building up the courage to speak out took days, months and even years for these Tech students to reveal their personal experiences as survivors of sexual assault at Tech’s annual Take Back the Night (TBTN), hosted by Women’s Awareness Month (WAM).
The event included student speakers who expressed their emotions in the forms of speeches, poems and songs, and representatives of the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD), the Department of Health Promotion and the Counseling Center, who discussed statistics, safety tips and raising awareness.
“My sexual assault does not define me, but continues to shape my world,” said Kelsey Tucker, TBTN chair and a fourth-year PSY major, who introduced the event.
The event continued with personal experiences.
“The most crucial step to healing is breaking the silence,” said Rachel Weinstein, a former TBTN chair and ISyE ’06.
Weinstein noted that from 2006-2009, only seven cases of sexual assault were reported at Tech, significantly lower than the national averages. This disconnect represents the many survivors who never speak up.
The student speakers discussed a wide range of psychological issues they dealt with as a result of their experiences.
Some found difficulty in defining themselves and their places in society, while others began to believe that they had been at fault all along.
Many developed some type of escape mechanism, such as alcoholism or eating disorders.
All survivors, however, faced a difficulty in speaking up and breaking the silence about their experiences, often worried that no one would believe them.
The survivors also found difficulty in living with the manipulation, as several knew their assailants in different capacities prior to their assault.
“Approximately 73 percent of sexual assault victims know their assailant,” according to the TBTN brochure.
Torrence Crutchfield of the Georgia Tech Department of Health Promotion discussed raising men’s awareness of sexual violence through the Counseling Center and focus group discussions to evaluate Tech males’ assessment of the social issue of sexual violence.
Crutchfield appreciated the large number of men at the event.
Rome Lester of the Counseling Center has counseled multiple survivors and notes the psychological difficulty relating to any incident.
“Recovery requires a great deal of strength,” Lester said, citing low self-esteem, depression and anxiety as just a few of the psychological impacts.
Lester emphasized the prevalence of sexual violence in all walks and demographics of society in detailing a story about fourth-graders in Cal. who came forward to their school principal about other young children being abused in their own homes.
Lester described need for people to speak out on the issue.
“When two, 10 or 800 voices are spoken, and they join together and loudly proclaim…you will hear them,” Lester said.
In addition to promoting awareness, TBTN focused on safe practices to prevent situations in which sexual violence is more likely to happen. Alex Gutierrez, a GTPD officer, promoted GTPD’s realistic defense tactics program and offered tips for avoiding sexual assault, such as walking in groups at night and avoiding accepting drinks from strangers.
The main piece of advice is to break the silence, to promote awareness of the social issue and to encourage discussion to help survivors live without fear.
“When the silence ends, change begins,” Weinstein said.