As I rest my vocal chords from the newfound zest I have for chanting anti-rape slogans into the misty night, I wanted to let you know I spoke at and participated in the Take Back the Night event at the University of New Haven tonight. The speaker they had scheduled had dropped out, and I got the call yesterday to see if I could make it. Of course I said yes, and then scrambled to pull some notes together. I like to speak to students whenever I can as they are the most at-risk age group for sexual assault, and also, the biggest opportunity I see in ending this crime.
My brief words led off the Speak Out portion of the event where survivors took the stage to talk about their experiences and learnings. I most definitely was the most animated in my time on stage and that’s because I am so passionate about this topic and particularly about conveying to any victims in the room the assurance and strength I feel when I tell them it is not their fault. Once finished, I took my seat and became witness to a solemn procession of victims sharing their stories – some for the first time – on stage in a garish, inescapable spotlight.
I am not seasoned enough in this subject matter yet that I am unaffected by disclosures. I might never be. Tonight’s stories gnawed at me both from the depravity of some of the crimes and the shock waves all victims experience no matter the violation. But there was one speaker in particular who broke my heart wide open. Whether it was the too-big clothes she wore as if to express a desire to be hidden or the way her hair seemed to crowd around her face when she spoke with lowered eyes, or the halting way she voiced vague details that nod to a shame she clearly still feels about what happened to her, she moved me very much. But the double whammy was what happened when she finished. Her friend or boyfriend took the microphone as she exited the stage. He stood there in the white light, gangly and awkward. He appeared… uncomfortable and uncertain about speaking. And for a moment, I thought he had a clear-cut case of stage fright. But then he uttered some of the most poignant, simple words that captured what the night was about.
As I was reaching for the tissues, he explained how hard it has been for him to watch her suffer. In both his intonation and his mannerisms, it was evident that he suffers too. And it was obvious he loved her. His was a perspective that until then had been missing. I wish there had been dozens more men there speaking out for their friends and how they see them suffer from this insidious offense. But tonight, he was enough. He was more than enough. And everyone there was amazing. It was a privilege to share this important night with them. Many thanks to the Victimology Club and all the great students, faculty and staff who attended.