Somebody in America is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. With that statistic, among others, on their hearts, the UCF chapter of the National Organization for Women spoke out against sexual assault Thursday night on campus.
The "Take Back the Night" event was organized by Sarah Siraj, a junior at UCF, to bring awareness to sexual assault and support victims of sexual violence. Siraj was personally motivated to bring this event to UCF after a close friend was sexually assaulted numerous times.
"I saw the impact the event had on people around me," said Siraj, a psychology major. "I saw putting on this event as my way of standing with her."
According to a report released by the World Health Organization in 2013, more than a third of women will suffer from sexual violence in their lifetime. The UCF Police Department's recently released Uniform Crime Report shows that there was a 27.3 percent increase in forcible rape from 2013 to 2014.
The event traditionally includes speeches, guest speakers, a march and a memorial to protest sexual violence. The event showcased key speakers such as Coretta Cotton, UCF alumni and Victim Services advocate, and Dr. Maria Cristina Santana, an associate women's studies professor and adviser to the UCF NOW chapter.
"It's so important that you don't be quiet bystanders: If you see something, say something," Cotton said.
Cotton stressed the importance of going out in groups, having a code word to warn friends when to leave dangerous situations and never blaming the victim.
"I don't care if you had something to drink, what you had to wear, how late you were out, or if you gave consent before — no one is allowed to touch you unless you give your permission," Cotton said.
Santana pointed out that feminist ideals are not pro-women, but pro-people. She said that Take Back the Night creates solidarity between victims and their advocates, and explained how there needs to be a sense of responsibility between the two.
"Do not look the other way, this is why we are in this state in this country — because people look the other way and say it's none of my business," Santana said. "It is your business."
More than two dozen people participated in the march against sexual violence and the vigil to honor those who had lost their lives trying to rebuild after an assault. A large banner proclaimed "these hands are not made for hurting," which people signed with their handprints. The march, comprised of men and women chanting emotionally charged verses, began at the Reflecting Pond, circled the Student Union and ended with a vigil held outside the John C. Hitt Library.
The event ended on a somber note with attendees recalling their experiences with sexual violence. Among the people who came forward was one woman whose pink shoes shone brightly in the setting sun as she explained how her first experience with sexual assault happened before the age of 10. She requested to not be named.
The overall message of the event was one of perseverance and preemptive action.
"You're here. You're intelligent. Make a difference," Santana said.
Take Back the Night originated in Philadelphia in 1975 as a protest of Susan Alexander Speeth's death. Speeth was a microbiologist who was stabbed to death walking home one evening. This event began as an all-women march meant to bring awareness to the terrors that haunted women after dark.
The inclusion of men in this traditionally all-women event has increased as modern feminists actively champion the rights of all genders. Siraj conveyed feminism includes all genders, races, and those who don't identify with a gender, and invited those interested to NOW's meetings on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. in room 222 of the Student Union.
Alissa Smith is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.