Written By Ruben Hernandez
Video By Nathaniel Torres
Austin Community College hosted its first ever Take Back the Night event, focused on the support of those who have undergone sexual assault or domestic violence. The event not only offered a variety of resources, but also a march through the main Highland Campus building and a speak out, where survivors were able to share their stories.
“Take Back the Night is a great event for students to get in contact with faculty, staff, and the community,“ Compliance Investigator Austin Wood said.
“It gives a platform for individuals to express themselves and share their stories. It’s also an opportunity to meet advocates and allies, connected with a population of support and passion. It’s a night of celebration and really making it through the hard and tough times.”
Take Back the Night maintained a high emphasis on the aspect of bonds and community, stating several times that those who have undergone assault or abuse aren’t alone. There are resources and people to help.
“It’s not something that anyone should have to deal with by themselves if they do feel that way,” Wood said. “It’s a really difficult thing that individuals have to go through, such trauma and such harm. But to know that there are resources such as this event and a community within the college itself, it really provides an outlet to know that they are not alone.”
Most notably during the Speak Out session, survivors were able to share their stories
and explain how far they have come since being abused or assaulted. Whoever wanted to share their story was welcome to walk up to the mic and start.
“The Speak Out began with an awesome keynote speaker,” Social and Civic Awareness and Student Life Coordinator Carrie Cooper said. “She shared her story about her leaving an abusive relationship while starting here at ACC. I think that was encouraging to other students and faculty staff members to come share their stories.”
Media has definitely played a part in spreading the message, but hearing it first-hand seems to have a different effect.
“It’s one thing to see statistics and news stories, but it’s another thing to hear someone’s actual story,” Cooper said. “It helps you put a person to the issue and realize why it’s so important for all of us to stand up against sexual and domestic violence. When you actually hear people’s stories, it spurs you on like nothing else will.”
ACC is one of the many campuses in the nation that holds a Take Back the Night event, but it is one of 10 campuses that will be featured by the Take Back the Night Foundation.
“The 10 Points of Light are 10 different campuses and locations that will be featured by the National Take Back the Night Foundation on April 25,” Cooper said. “I lead the TBTN planning committee, and after I applied, the national foundation reached out to me and asked if ACC would be interested in being featured.”
Victims of sexual assault or domestic violence can be anyone of any gender, skin color, race, or sexual identity. People are different, but the stories can be similar.
“What I learned from Take Back the Night is that everyone is different,” Riverbat Ambassador Jesse Fraga said. “These people were here sharing their stories, and expressing how they feel.”
Providing opportunities for victims is something that is widely emphasized, and resources such as counselors and the SAFE Alliance were there at Take Back the Night to emphasize that.
“What stuck out to me the most was how powerful it is to hear from other people who have been where you are,” Cooper said. “I think it is encouraging in a way that nothing else is encouraging. It’s good for students to be able to hear other peoples’ stories, and realize that they’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Fraga believes that support and encouragement are key to handling these types of situations.
“If that one person tells a friend about their situation, that friend needs to encourage that person to speak up,” Fraga said. “It’s really severe. That’s what Take Back the Night is about: how severe it can get and the support for those people. If you’re someone that has had a friend tell you about their tragedy, it’s our job to convince them to speak up or have them talk to a counselor because this can get very bad.”
With the recent #MeToo movement, sexual assault and domestic violence have become a more significant and serious topic. This was one of the things that started the effort to a better and more well-aware society.
“It’s a really hard and sometimes awkward thing to talk about,” Cooper said. “Obviously our culture has changed with the #MeToo movement. It still takes a lot to talk in front of a group of people in real life, which is a lot different than making a social media post. That still takes courage, but being present with people can make it healing in a way because you can see people who you see your own story in.”
People of all sorts of backgrounds have free access to these resources. No matter where you’re from or who you are, support is available for anyone in need of it.
“I think its a huge resource and shows that the college shows an emphasis on support,” Wood said. ”Everybody has a background and everyone goes through life experiences, and it’s important to know that there’s a place and an outlet for all individuals of diverse backgrounds. We all have different experiences and come from different places in life.”
The bond between community and victim is something that can make the world of a difference, and Take Back the Night was to serve as the connection between the two.
“I hear stories about how bad it can get without speaking up,” Fraga said. “I think that what the most important thing is: speak up no matter what. Whether you’re the friend or the victim, as a community we need to speak up louder and louder.”