“I remember looking at my phone one night and reading a text that said, ‘Did he just rape me?’”
Florida A&M’s annual silent march in support of sexual assault survivors took place on Thursday, culminating with testimonials at the Eternal Flame. The event was sponsored by the Office of Counseling Services, which partnered with Active Minds, S.I.S.T.U.H.S., Voices Poetry Group, and the Beta Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
The event consisted of two different marches.
The first march was a silent walk which began at the Eternal Flame and went through the set on to B.L. Perry, then down Osceola Street to Wahnish Way, past the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication and ended back at the Eternal Flame — all while being silent. The first walk was in remembrance of those who could not speak up for themselves and have remained silent.
There were chairs set up in the grass by the Eternal Flame for students to sit as well as a microphone for speakers. After everyone got settled, they were introduced to the most meaningful part of the event: survivor stories.
The first to share her story was Linney Osias, a sophomore English major.
“This is really hard for me, so I’m going to speak from the heart. I have been sexually assaulted a total of three times in my life,” she said. “The first two times I was told to be silenced it wasn’t until recently that I felt like I had my own voice."
“If it wasn’t for my organization Voices, and the people I have grown close to on this campus I would not be standing in front of you here today. Last year I was sexually assaulted in the beginning of 2018 and recently this year I was able to stand in front of a jury and tell my story. It took one full year for me to tell my story, but it took several times for people to hear me out," said Osias.
“That day I thought I was going to tell my story and the jury would be on my side. But unfortunately, that was not the case,” she added. “The person who assaulted me was found not guilty. But although he was found not guilty that does not mean that my story is not true."
"I will not let my voice be silenced and I will continue to speak for others because this is a problem in our community and I am tired of us being told that we need to be silenced or that our story is not enough and that those who did what they did are found not guilty. At the end of the day it happened to us; we know our truth and we have people who love and believe in us and that is all that matters at the end of the day,” said Osias.
The second survivor to sharee her story was junior public relations major Bleu Bell.
“I jumped into this relatively abusive relationship my freshman year. (It was a) really bad idea; I don’t suggest that. You actually can get raped by your boyfriend,” she said, “that is an actual thing. I said no maybe nine times before he finally stopped," said Bell.
“I didn’t really go to the police until like six months later. So that was hard trying to recall the information and share it with FAMU PD. Recently something that I learned is that it doesn’t matter what you do, your actions or what you wear, predators don’t care. I don’t know what it is about wearing dresses or skirts or putting on makeup or just being beautiful in general that makes people think they have the right to violate you. You don’t. It’s a group effort so for those of you here who are not checking your line brothers, that aren’t checking the friends that are in your org, it’s your fault too. It’s not just his. You are all part of the problem,” Bell said.
Bell’s last piece of advice was, “I encourage you to speak up and be beautiful and wear what you want and go to parties and have fun.”
The final survivor on the program was Tanzania Ralph, a junior broadcast journalism major.
“It’s hard because everyone around me thinks so highly of me, but me, After I was assaulted, I blamed myself and I still do sometimes,” Ralph said.” Maybe if I wasn’t so gullible to believe that he actually cared about my well-being."
"Maybe if I had never went out that night to have a good time, maybe if I had never responded to his messages or answered his phone calls, I wouldn’t be reading this, I wouldn’t feel so stupid, so dumb, so broken and so hurt," said Ralph.
“I have mentally went into a place that I don’t know how to get out of. I’m told to go to counseling but who will help me when I’m alone at night. Who will help me when I am up until five in the morning knowing that I have a nine in the morning class, but I am too afraid to close my eyes because I will see his scary face,” she added. “When a judge allowed him to come back to campus my heart sunk,” Ralph said.
The counseling services brought tissues for everyone who had tears running down their eyes. After the three survivors shared their stories, the counseling services allowed individuals in the crowd who felt comfortable enough and inspired to share their own stories. Several young women volunteered. A young woman who was a senior, a member from the Army ROTC, and even a young woman who shared the story of her ex-girlfriend who had given her permission to share her story.
Jodi-Ann Hemingham, a recent graduate student, wanted to be heard.
“I went to my advisor to be able to get the time excused for school. I felt comfortable coming to him or going to him because of the fact that I knew he was really helpful when it came to school things,” Hemingham said. “If a teacher was giving me a hard time, I could go to him and he would go handle that teacher."
“The problem with that is that he was really comfortable being sexual with his students as well. After a while I stopped going to him for the obvious discomfort and I reported it to the office of equal opportunities. Because that is what I was urged to do. I was told that over the years he was harassing students, specifically his female students, and that nothing had happened because no one had put their name to an allegation," said Hemingham.
“I put my name to an allegation and the school was supposed to get back to me in a month,” she added. “Three months went by and they didn’t get back to me. It wasn’t until maybe two months into my last semester, which was last semester, that they said that they said that they found none of my allegations to be true. Which was weird to me because any female student within my department that I would speak to without me going into detail almost immediately knew who I was talking about. But my school didn’t. I say all of that to say don’t keep your allegations anonymous. Put a name to it, force your school to do something, say their names call them out,” said Hemingham.
The counseling services closed the event by giving all of the organizations they partnered with as well as the three students who spoke a certificate of appreciation.
After individuals were done sharing the second march too place, and it was not silent at all. The individuals began to chant “silent no more.”
The counseling services phone number is (850)-599-3145. For immediate help you can contact Refuge House, which will provide crisis support, victim advocate services and even support groups. Call (850) 681-2111.