The sun was just beginning to set on April 19 when the UC Irvine Campus Assault Resources and Education program and the Gender Education Series lit up the night with their annual ‘Take Back the Night’ candlelight vigil and march in front of the flagpoles.
The ceremony, which became a tradition at UCI in the mid-1990s, is intended to raise awareness about sexual assault nationwide.
Before the march, guest speaker Dawn Foor, supervisor of prevention education and community outreach for Community Service Programs Inc., shared her traumatizing experience with sexual violence and recovery.
Foor was strangled, stabbed and sodomized on the night of April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City at the age of 43. She crawled naked and bleeding for almost three miles from where she was attacked to seek help.
‘Because my physical, emotional and sexual damage was so profound I [would have been] foolish not to use [my pain] and turn it around and use it for something good,’ Foor said. ‘I’ve turned my pain into something positive because I cannot allow a terrorist to destroy my life.’
Foor works to inform the public about the consequences of sexual violence and to help victims of sexual abuse and rape to understand and cope with their experiences.
The event included a candlelight vigil and march around Ring Road, across Aldrich Park and through the Clothesline Project; a speech by Noah Aleshire, a prevention education specialist with Community Service Programs; student performances; a speak-out session for survivors to share their stories; and a private group consolation meeting afterwards.
Students and families who attended the event planted 2,958 red flags in the lawn in front of the flagpoles, representing an estimation of the number of women who will be victims of actual or attempted assault on the UCI campus before the time they graduate.
John Remy, a graduate student at Cal State Long Beach and a father of two children, a 9-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, was particularly moved by the Clothesline Project between Langson Library and Gateway.
‘As a husband and father, I’m concerned about the world that [my daughter] is going into, the issues that she has to face,’ Remy said. ‘[As a father, I want to make sure that my son is] not going to be someone who going to disrespect girls. I don’t want him to be a part of that.’
Karin Kahen, a first-year undecided/undeclared major, was frustrated that her high school did not inform their students about sexual assault.
‘Everyone knows what rape is, everyone knows what sexual assault is, but you never really get informed about it, you never hear the statistics about it,’ Kahen said.
On college campuses, where drinking and substance abuse are more common, students may blame victims for putting themselves in a dangerous social atmosphere.
Fraternities and sororities are especially stigmatized because of the alcohol involved at some of their parties. To combat this image, several fraternities and sororities came out to show their support.
Michael McGee, a third-year international studies and history double major and a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, explained.
‘The stereotype is drinking and partying and date rape, but you see that many fraternities are progressive in stopping this kind of stuff through education, Greek and fraternity council meetings and chapter meetings,’ McGee said. ‘Basically, what I tell the guys in the chapter is that if your mother wouldn’t approve of it, then you probably shouldn’t do it.’
Even after sexual assaults have already occurred, victims are further stigmatized by society, according to Mandy Mount, director of CARE.
‘You get a lot of people who are not reporting and it’s very difficult to get those numbers because of the fact that there are a lot of cultural norms that make [sexual assault] shameful or embarrassing,’ Mount explained. ‘In addition to that, the stereotype is that it’s the man in the bushes. … When it happens on campus, it doesn’t usually look like that, so a lot of people don’t realize what’s happened to them and don’t label it as sexual assault.’
Throughout the ceremony, speakers stressed that victims are victims; and should not feel guilty or ashamed about what happened to them.
Wednesday night’s event was a way for CARE to reach out to UCI students and to encourage victims of rape or sexual violence to speak-up and help prevent the same thing from happening to other students.
Future plans for CARE include expanding to high schools in an attempt to educate students about sexual assault during a more critical developmental stage in their lives.
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