UCF students march across campus to raise awareness about sexual assault

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Members of the UCF College Democrats and six Central Florida organizations marched across campus to raise awareness about sexual assault. Bernard Wilchusky, Central Florida Future

Students and local volunteers hit the sidewalks of the UCF campus to march against sexual violence at noon Thursday.

The march, called SlutWalk, is an annual event held by the UCF College Democrats to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

"SlutWalk is a transnational movement that started in 2011 in Toronto after Toronto police told women that if they didn't want to be sexually assaulted, they shouldn't dress like sluts," said Chelsea Daley, a senior political science major and president of the UCF College Democrats. "Women came out against that statement and decided to do a march where women could wear whatever they felt empowered to wear without feeling at risk."

The event began with a series of speeches on the Student Union pavilion. Students discussed their own experiences with sexual assault, and members of six local advocacy organizations provided information on how to cope with or seek aid when faced with sexual assault.

After the speeches, the march commenced in earnest, with 27 marchers circuiting the walkways of campus while waving handmade placards scrawled with messages denouncing sexual assault. Daley took the vanguard, chanting slogans as the marchers wound their way through the breezeway and around the library before returning to the Student Union.

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Nikki Mariutto, a freshman film major, said that she joined the march in the wake of a personal experience with sexual assault. She expressed hope that events like the SlutWalk would help to spark a dialogue among students about the issue.

"This is one of those topics that I feel very passionately about," Mariutto said. "I've had to deal with this, to deal with people asking me 'What were you wearing' like it played a factor in why I got sexually assaulted. It's something about sexual assault that doesn't get talked about much."

Each year in America, an average of 59,117 female college students are the victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, according to an eight-year special report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Only 20 percent of victims report their assault to police, and 20 percent of victims reported that they remained silent out of fear of reprisal from their attackers. Only 16 percent of victims received assistance from a victim services agency.

At UCF, there were 14 reported cases of forcible rape in 2014, according to the UCF Police Department's University Crime Report. This was a 27.3 percent increase from 11 cases of forcible rape reported in 2013.

Sebastian Rios, a junior political science major, said that marches like SlutWalk are essential in changing a culture of victim-blaming and shame.

"A lot of my male friends have that mentality, a mentality that if a woman doesn't want attention, she shouldn't dress a certain way," Rios said. "I want to see change happen, I want people to be aware of rape culture. This culture, what SlutWalk is doing, is about empowering women, about keeping women from changing the way the dress or how they act just because they're afraid.

"No one should be afraid."

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Bernard Wilchusky is Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @facilesweateror email him at BernardW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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