SPEAK event provides forum for W&L students to share their stories

Survivors of sexual assault find support at annual event

SPEAK members read stories submitted by student survivors.

Anneliese Schneider

SPEAK members read stories submitted by student survivors.

Anneliese Schneider, Staff Writer

Washington and Lee’s Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention Club (SPEAK) hosted its annual Stand Up, Speak Out event on Nov. 30.

The event provided a forum for survivors of sexual assault at Washington and Lee to share their stories. Students wrote about their experience and submitted them anonymously before the event. Members of SPEAK then read them aloud to an audience of gathered community members. 

Some student accounts highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault at Washington and Lee — and, at the same time, the common belief of, “it will never happen to me.”

“I never thought I’d be part of that statistic — one fifth, one third, whatever it is now — but you know exactly what I mean,” one student wrote. “Nonetheless, I didn’t think it would happen more than once.”

But prior experience doesn’t make prevention easier, the student wrote. 

“I thought after the first time I’d be able to recognize it and stop it. But it’s not that simple when you’re incapacitated” they said. “My body has been stolen from me, and my mind has been manipulated.” 

And legal resources often fail survivors when seeking help. One student said they filed a formal report at the Title IX office and decided to pursue a formal investigation.

“The investigation process might have been more traumatizing than the event itself,” the student wrote. “I felt like I had made it all up.”

At the trial in January, the court decided the accused student was innocent, the survivor said. 

“My self-doubt was worse than it ever had been,” they wrote. “I felt like a liar.” 

Through therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the student was able to regain self-belief. 

“I didn’t make it up, what happened,” the student wrote. “It did happen. And it did affect me. And it wasn’t my fault.”   

For another student, the act of sharing what happened at SPEAK’s event was the first step toward reclamation of their identity.

“I never spoke up, I never told anybody until today, but that doesn’t make my experience any less valid,” the student wrote. “Nobody, not him, gets to distort my memories, and make me think that I am crazy. I was a victim, and this is how I begin to reclaim my story.”

SPEAK works to educate students about sexual assault and prevention. Resources are available for those who have experienced sexual assault:

  • Washington & Lee University Counseling – 540-458-8590
  • Title IX Office – 540-458-8250
  • Virginia State Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline – 800-838-8238