In the waning Thursday evening light, demonstrators in front of the Monroe County Courthouse formed a tight circle.
Candles illuminated the faces of sexual assault survivors telling their stories and the faces of allies who came to support them. For some, this was the first time they had ever shared their deeply personal stories of abuse, rape or sexual assault with anyone else.
From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Feminist Student Association participated in their annual Take Back the Night demonstration to talk about sexual assault and abuse. Just before 8 p.m., the group began to form a long line on Indiana Avenue, led by two women holding a sign that read “Take Back the Night” in blue lettering on a white poster. Behind them were 77 demonstrators, two of which were dogs.
The group marched down Kirkwood Avenue to the courthouse to hold a “speak-out” so survivors of sexual assault could share their stories in a confidential setting.
“It's not really as much of a protest as it is a standing in solidarity, it's more of a healing process,” Lauren Rothstein, president of the Feminist Student Association said.
Rothstein said that the timing of the event worked well with some issues happening on campus right now such as the outrage regarding the fake It’s On Us sexual assault posters.
“It's a way for people who were triggered or really upset by those to kind of have an outlet to share their experience and story with people who are really supportive,” Rothstein said.
As the event got underway, two speeches were given on the topic of sexual assault.
Evelyn Smith, a community outreach coordinator from Middleway House, said that we lived in dangerous times. She touched on expanding immigration control, increased focus on law and order policing, the expanding industrial prison complex, and new sexual assault policy from Betsy DeVos. Smith said that it is important to show solidarity for people directly affected by these phenomena.
“For those of us who are survivors, myself included, we know the pain of being asked, ‘Why didn’t you fight back?’” Smith said. “Well you know what, we are, and I only ask that we do it loudly for the sake of those who have been silenced and for those who can’t afford the risks and the visibility the struggle will bring.”
The group marched down Kirkwood silently, a few of them hand in hand. One demonstrator wore a denim jacket that read “make Nazis afraid again” across the back. Two other wore matching “love shouldn’t hurt,” shirts, and another wore a jacket that said “Grl · PWR” under a “rock on” hand signal.
At the courthouse, survivors of sexual assault were invited to share their stories. Someone would stand in the middle and speak for a short time. Some spoke through tears.
At about 8:45 p.m., a man walked down the sidewalk on North Walnut Street.
“Make America great again, baby!” he yelled.
The Feminist Student association asked media to not be at the speak-out at the courthouse in order to make survivors feel as comfortable sharing their stories as possible. Megan Chapman agreed to share her story with the IDS outside of the speak-out.
Megan Chapman, a freshman from Carmel, Indiana, was sexually assaulted by her now ex-boyfriend when she was 17 years old. The assault occurred in his car after school. After it was over, Chapman had to work a shift at a restaurant in town.
Chapman said that the they were making out in his car, and she told him she didn’t want to do anything sexual when the situation escalated. She said that he put her into a position where she couldn’t move and proceeded to finger her and make her perform oral sex on him without her consent.
“During that shift, I already started to mentally compartmentalize what had happened and just sort of put it at the back of my mind so that I wouldn't have to think about it,” Chapman said. “And so, I never really did deal with it. I actually hadn't told that story to anyone until tonight.”
Chapman said that after the assault occurred, her ex-boyfriend texted her asking what was wrong. She said she thought he suspected something was wrong after she acted coldly towards him after the assault. It wasn’t until hours later that they talked about what had happened.
“He knew what he had done,” Chapman said.
Chapman said she had a conversation with her ex-boyfriend after their text conversation about consent and their boundaries, but she didn’t realize until much later that what had happened was sexual assault.
Chapman attributes this delay in understanding to the poor sexual assault education she received in high school. She said that her high school failed to teach her that sexual assault can just as easily be done by a significant other rather than a stranger or family member. She said that better sexual assault education since then helped her realize that the episode with her ex-boyfriend was sexual assault.
Chapman said that she never moved forward with charges against her ex-boyfriend. She said because her ex-boyfriend has sought help since the assault, he has tried to better his actions.
Chapman said that the reason she wanted to share her story was to let the people at the event know that just because they are in a committed sexual relationship with someone, that does not mean that person is entitled to the victim's body.
“People need to remember that they do have protection over their own body and they can have boundaries on their body,” Chapman said. “Their significant other shouldn't be able to exploit that.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Megan Chapman upon first reference. The IDS regrets this error.
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