Luna Besaiso – Staff Writer
The month of April is nationally recognized as the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), symbolized by a teal ribbon. During this month, communities come together to support the victims of sexual violence, raise public awareness, and provide resources to help prevent assault.
In honor of SAAM, IGNITE and Students For Reproductive Freedom (SRF) held a myriad of activities prior to their main event, “The 97%”. Members of the student orgs gathered in the Courtyard Cafe to create cardboard signs that include statistics and empowering quotes. The week after, the signs were hung up on campus trees outside of Eckman Mall.
On Wednesday April 21, The 97% took place in the Arboretum. Professor Misti Harper gave an opening speech about the significance of the event and the backstory behind legitimizing SAAM, its connection to second-wave feminism, and the activists that came before us to make it possible.
Before SAAM was recognized in 2001, the roots of the movement go back to anti-violence initiatives in the 1970s. A wide-spread demand for social change around issues of sexual violence gained power and the movement “Take Back The Night” emerged. This movement encourages survivors of sexual assault to march, rally, proest, and hold vigils against rape and all other forms of harassment. Ever since, the movement has become an annual event honored internationally and across all fifty states.
Following Harper’s speech, attendees were invited to join a moment of silence that lasted 97 seconds. Then, they walked around the Arb chanting; “However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.” Afterwards, participants stood in a socially distanced circle and yelled, screamed, and used that moment to let unresolved anger out, and break the silence.
Junior Regina Olono, the president of IGNITE, explains the meaning behind these activities.
“The name of the event refers to a recent study that revealed 97% of women had experienced some kind of sexual harassment. This information is not talked about enough, so we decided to come up with an event that sheds light on sexual assault, specially that women are statistacally more prone to it than men. We were inspired by Take Back The Night movement, and tried to embody it in our activities through marching and chanting in the Arb,” Olono Vidales said.
The event also featured a self-defense portion. A demonstration was shown to educate the audience about the top five defense movements in case of an assault; hammer strike, groin kick, elbow strike, “Bear Hug” attack, and hand trap escape. A technique guide and homemade pepper spray recipes were also printed and provided for people to collect. These events were an attempt to educate the audience and provide them with necessary information that contributes to protection from assault.
To wrap up the event, a bonfire was lit. Attendees gathered to share their stories and feelings. Cookies, bandanas, stickers, and educational resources were also provided. Junior Emily Falk, the president of SRF, comments on the importance of providing such space.
“Although there is a lot of awareness, it is still somewhat limited. Many gusties have experienced sexual assault in some shape or form, but sadly, not a lot are aware of what they have experienced, or sometimes don’t have an opportunity to express what they feel. Usually, it is always a moment of silence, but many salients want to rage. I hope our attendees left not feeling alone, left feeling empowered, knowing that we are here to provide a space for them to let their anger out, and we are going to continue doing so in the future,” Falk said.