USF students and faculty "Take Back the Night" to raise awareness of sexual abuse

04/17/13 Janelle Irwin
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There have been two reported rape cases on the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus this semester. Students hosted Take Back the Night on campus Tuesday to encourage their peers to speak out against rape. Elizabeth Moshella is president of the group Network, Improve, Transform, Empower, or NITE.

“Everyone is welcome and we encourage this event because one in four college women will experience an attempted rape or a completed rape during their college years alone. So, we feel it’s very important to, so-called, break the silence and have an event like this to spread awareness and support survivors.”

Moshella said most cases of college rapes occur after the victim has been drinking.

“And that is something that in our definition of consent by sexual battery, State of Florida law is something that you cannot give consent once you have consumed a certain amount of alcohol and people are always under the stereotype and the notion that if she’s drinking, she had it coming and she deserved it and really that’s not true. So, we’re hoping to dispel some of those myths.”

More than 200 people crowded the amphitheater outside the Marshall Student Services Center to hear Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies Michelle Hughes Miller tell her story. Hughes Miller was raped in college thirty years ago. She’s changed the way she looks at her own victimization since her assault.

“And I also learned that I no longer had to trust my ex-husband’s opinion of what happened to me and I no longer had my ex-best friend’s voice in my head shaming me for what had happened that night. So, I started verbally calling my experience rape. I was raped. I had been drinking. I said stop. He didn’t stop. I cried. I was raped.”

A chime interrupted speakers every two minutes symbolizing how often a college student is sexually abused. Hughes Miller continued talking through the chime. She explained how her rape shaped her career, but that it wasn’t until she saw her attacker nine years later that she finally came to terms with what had happened to her.

“The next thing I know, I’m at home, curled up on the floor of my dining room, hysterical, crying, convinced that he was going to find me and convinced that it was going to happen again.”

Hughes Miller paraphrased a poem she wrote after that incident titled ‘she’s out there’. It described all the different women who are victims – minorities, young women, women in the military,

“And sometimes she’s no longer out there. Audrey Pot, who killed herself 8-days after she was – and I’m supposed to use the word allegedly here – sexually assaulted after falling asleep at a party. During those 8-days, she discovered pictures of the attack taken by individuals at the party that were then shared online between her friends. Three of her friends – people she thought were her friends - had been arrested for the sexual assault. No one has been charged with spreading those pictures around.”

The Women’s and Gender studies professor described how students, the media and most adults have become so accustomed to rape, they actually accept it. She told stories about victims being blamed and attackers being defended. Hughes Miller said it’s called rape culture.

“Most of the patterns we know though are based upon reports to the police or to survey researchers. How many do we not know about? What patterns exist that we’re still waiting to discover.”

“I care about the women in my life, I am angry that people I care about have been hurt, I know that more than one woman is raped every minute in this country. I understand that …” [ambient]

Take Back the Night focused mainly on sexual assault on women, but men were involved too. Ryan Newton is the assistant director in the office of orientation at USF. He led about fifty male students in the Real Men’s Promise.

“There’s a sign down here that I just saw when I stepped in. It says one and four women will be abused or raped. I’m not OK with that. Everyone in here can think of four people that they care about – four women – and if even one of those women was hurt, that’s too many.”

Most of the students filed out of the amphitheater after Newton spoke and marched silently across campus. Each held signs calling attention to rape and sexual violence. After, victims were invited to tell their stories with counselors and even a therapy dog on hand to help them start healing.

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