Students, victims take back the night

SPEAK sponsors its annual night of sharing stories to raise awareness about sexual assault

Kassie Scott

In support of sexual assault survi- vors, the Washington and Lee commu- nity gathered at Take Back the Night on March 19 to listen to messages of hope, poetry and powerful accounts of sexual assault and violence.

SPEAK, an organization of students committed to speaking out against sexu- al misconduct, hosted events throughout the week in anticipation of Take Back the Night, which included a concert, a documentary showing and the signing of a banner in support of sexual assault survivors.

Although sexual assault is an issue shrouded by silence, according to Ryan Scott, ‘15, Co-President of SPEAK, sur- vivors stood up and spoke out on Thurs- day evening.

“Tonight we have heard from the sur- vivors, who have bravely told their sto- ries in the hopes that future students will not have this kind of story to tell,” Kate Corr, the campus services coordinator at Project Horizon and a 2009 W&L alum said.

Survivors of sexual assault, Austin Pierce, ’15, Alice Moore, ’16, and No- elle Rutland ,’17, shared their personal stories.

“No one tells you about this part of the first-year experience in the college bro- chures,” Rutland said.

Personally affected by sexual assault during her freshman year of college, Rutland now serves as the project man- ager, along with Anna Kathryn Barnes, ’15, of the Facing Sexual Violence Proj- ect, a book of stories that range from experiences of verbal harassment to do- mestic violence and rape.

Before sharing their stories with a large audience, both Moore and Pierce found the courage to speak about their sexual assault experiences with close friends after attending Take Back the Night as underclassmen.

“Before I left W&L, I wanted to tell my story. As a guy, it’s a part of the issue that sometimes gets overlooked,” Pierce said.

Refusing to overlook sexual assault, the Washington and Lee Community took a moment to reflect after hearing a vocal performance of “Oh Shenandoah” by the University Singers.

“As members of this community, which exalts honor, leadership and ser- vice, it is our responsibility to be active bystanders, good friends and empathetic humans,” Emma Swabb, ’16, Co-Presi- dent of SPEAK said.

SPEAK not only raises awareness about sexual assault but also promotes healthy relationships.

“It took me years to figure out what a healthy, respectful relationship is like and what it means to actually want something, and, in fact, I am still fig- uring it out,” Moore, Co-President of SPEAK, said.

Though the survivors reported years of silence following their assaults, at Take Back the Night their voices were regained, their silence was renounced, and their strength was both recognized and revealed.

“When rape shoved me down again and again, I wobbled forward one step at a time, out of bed, out of depression, toward truth, toward clarity, toward re- covery,” Rutland said.

With the survivors, one step at a time, community members walked the colon- nade, participating in a candlelight vigil at the conclusion of Take Back the Night in the hope of continuing the conversa- tion about sexual assault and violence.