Scenes from WSSO’s annual fundraiser for Project Safe and The Cottage at Nuçi’s Space on Friday, April 5, 2019. The fundraiser including speakers, live music and a raffle, and ended in a march to the arch downtown along with a candlelit vigil for victims of sexual assault. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, http://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

In a dimly lit and intimate space, survivors of sexual assault took to the stage and broke the silence with their personal, candid stories of healing and survival as attendees listened intently and quietly.

Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to RAINN’s website.

Take Back the Night, an annual fundraising event hosted by the Women’s Studies Student Organization, was held on April 5 from 6-9 p.m. at Nuçi’s Space. The event serves to raise awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic abuse, as well as raise money for The Cottage, a nonprofit helping those affected by sexual violence and child abuse, and Project Safe, a nonprofit providing services to end domestic violence.

The night, which started with a series of powerful stories told by the speakers, culminated in a “March to the Arch” and a candlelit vigil to conclude the event.

The name of the event, Take Back the Night, alludes to “reclaiming what the night stands for,” and the idea that women should feel walking at night, Diana Richtman, a sophomore English and women’s studies double major from Guyton, Georgia and one of the facilitators for WSSO said.

“Now, more than ever, it’s really important that we show the world and our Athens community that we need to stand with survivors and believe them and their stories,” Richtman said.

For Abigail Callaway, who was recently crowned Miss of America of 2019 for American Pageants, this event was her first time speaking out about her personal experiences as a survivor.

“For 21 years, there was never a moment that felt right for me to talk about [my personal story], but now it’s really empowering to know that I can speak my truth,” Callaway said. “This was a big step to know that I’ve grown a lot in my healing journey.”

Callaway is also the founder of The Sunflower Project, which was created as her pageantry platform. The Sunflower Project serves to “promote a future without sexual violence and to be an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and the organizations that support them,” according to the organization’s website.

Emma Rose Lowder, sophomore psychology and women’s studies double major from Charlotte, North Carolina, came to the event for her first time to hear survivors of sexual assault share their stories and also “do something different on a Friday night.”

“Domestic violence is such a prominent thing and people don’t realize it,” Lowder said. “It takes a lot of strength and courage for these speakers to come forward and talk about their experiences, and that’s something that I hope people will recognize.”

After the speakers told their stories, attendees were led on a “March to the Arch,” by members of WSSO. They carried posters, which had written messages such as “Dating should not hurt” and “Consent is sexy,” and yelled chants such as “Our body, our life. We will not be compromised” and “Women, unite. Take back the night.”

The march ended with a candlelit vigil in front of the Arch, where attendees and locals who came across the vigil took a stand against sexual assault and some even used the opportunity to share their own stories and thoughts.

 “On a community layer, [Take Back the Night] is showing that there are people out there who want to take a step against sexual violence,” Callaway said. “It’s also important to survivors to know that they aren’t alone and that there are people who want to help them and provide warmth and comfort.”  

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