Organizations at Florida A&M University (FAMU) including Progressive Black Men, Inc., S.I.S.T.U.H.S., and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Active Minds hosted a silent march on April 5 in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to support survivors of sexual assault and/or abuse.
Staff, faculty, and students gathered around the eternal flame after marching through campus silently. The first campus march is silent to represent all of those who have been silent or felt shamed about their experience.
Following behind the silent march were stories of survivorship by seven women who shared their sexual assault experience and healing process with the audience. “I hope people understand that they shouldn’t be silent when things like this happen to them. It’s not right,” said Michelle “Marva” Johnson, the current Miss FAMU.
Johnson was second to share her experience with the crowd, “I don’t want people to assume that the leaders of the school have a perfect life. People can be standing in front of you going through the same issue, but when you’re open enough to share, you give others the courage to speak up.”
Sexual violence on campus is pervasive. According to RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) official website, women between age 18 to 15 are at an elevated risk of sexual violence. 11.2 percent of all student’s experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
“About 1 in 6 college-aged female survivors receive assistance from a victim service agency,” said Dr. Chika Hooper.
Hooper, who works with the FAMU Office of Counseling Services, was the coordinator of the awareness march. She is also the outreach coordinator and works as a therapist for the outreach program.
“It is Vital that we have these spaces for people to share their stories on something that is so prevalent on college campuses,” Hooper said. “We want people to feel empowered and to speak out about an issue that many seem to ignore. We don’t want these horrible experiences to dictate or define who they are.”
“I need students to understand that there is power in their words. Many people are struggling with being sexually assaulted and now is the time to speak up,” Hooper continued.
Sexual assault can take many forms, but one thing remains the same: it is never the victim’s fault. The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately seven out of 10 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape.
“I know some survivors of rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is a never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator,” said Allen Mendez, a freshmen business administration student. “I hope students who attended this event feel empowered. I hope they’ve gained the courage to seek help if they need it.”
If you need counseling or anyone to talk to, contact FAMU Public Safety (24 hours a day) at 850-599-3256, FAMU Student Health Services at 850-599-3777 or FAMU Office of Counseling Services at 850-599-3145.