In a room full of Ohio University and Athens community members, Sil Lai Abrams took a deep breath, put down her script and dove into her story about sexual assault and survival.
“Today is April 16, 2015. Today is the day that my sister would’ve been 43 years old, had she lived,” Abrams began after a pause. “My sister, like myself, was a survivor of sexual violence.”
What followed focused on the journey survivors go through after they have experienced sexual assault and emphasized the effects of media’s portrayal of black men and women with regards to this issue.
The talk, which was followed by a march through Athens and the Ohio University campus in support of survivors, was the keynote address of Take Back the Night, a week-long campaign to spread awareness and support about sexual violence.
Abrams is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Truth in Reality, an advocacy organization challenging media depictions of women of color. Her work focusing on the roles race and ethnicity play in discussions about sexual assault is an area. Bobby Walker, a sophomore studying women’s and gender studies, said she thinks is crucial.
“The race perspective is often left out, but the racist perspective has a lot to do with sexual violence and how certain people can’t come forward because they’re also dealing with a lot of racism and backlash because of stereotypes against them,” Walker said. “[Abrams] is looking at how stereotypes about black women that the media perpetuates actually are used against black women when they try to come forth about their domestic violence or experiences with sexual assault.”
Following Abram’s talk, survivors of power-based personal violence met at the Scripps Amphitheater to talk back the streets “in the name of peace, justice, and the liberation of all people,” according the mission statement.
In addition to people who have experienced violence including domestic or sexual assault, race-based discrimination and bullying, sympathisers also gathered as sideline supporters to encourage participants as they took to the streets.
“It gives survivors a chance to meet other survivors and be surrounded by people who have gone through the same things without having to get super personal about it,” said Taylor Baird, a sophomore psychology major.
Freshman geology major Austin Johnson was part the sideline support during the march. He said he hopes the event will help both raise awareness about sexual assault and show people they can do to help survivors.
“I feel like it’s my job, it’s my obligation to make them feel safe,” Johnson said.
Baird shared this sentiment, saying sideline support is essential for survivors.
“Also it’s really important… to know that there are people who might not have gone through the same things but can empathize with you… and help you embrace what you’ve gone through and use it not as a way to destroy yourself but grow,” Baird said. “You can’t do that without the sideline support.”
Throughout the night, the sentiment of empowerment pervaded both the keynote address and the march, and for Abrams, her empowerment came when she reported one of her assaulters.
“I knew right then I was not powerless,” Abrams said. “I was not going to let him shame me I was not going to let my fear stop me, I was going to speak up for myself in spite of being terrified, and I recognize that not everyone can or should do that, but that was my choice in that moment.”