Annual event spreads sexual assault awareness, offers support
A survivor’s story of her sexual assault and how she overcame the aftermath was the centerpiece of an annual event centered on educating college students about the issues of assault and rape.
Every year, UTD hosts “Take Back the Night,” an event with the goal of educating students on the prevalence of sexual assault as well as provide support, spread awareness and give perspective on the issue of sexual assault. Katie Koestner, who was featured in Time magazine for speaking up about her experiences and providing guidance to other victims affected by sexual assault, gave her insight on the topic on April 20 at the Clark Center.
“[I knew I could make a difference] the moment I went over to the police station, when [the perpetrator] and I had that last conversation,” Koestner said.
Kacey Sebeniecher, the event coordinator, said that “Take Back the Night” is a foundation that serves to give voices to sexual assault survivors.
“I want (students) to be aware that these issues do happen, and how they can possibly prevent it and if it does happen, how to report it and what are our resources on campus,” Sebeniecher said.
She explained that although sexual assault is a personal subject, it is important to show college students that there are resources available in dealing with it, such as support services and professional staff at UTD.
“We don’t take anything related to sexual assault lightly,” Sebeniecher said. “I think if someone maybe hasn’t reported or talked about it at all, having an advocate like Katie Koestner come on campus could be that reason they change their mind and tell someone.”
Sebeniecher added that Koestner’s choice to speak out on the subject of sexual assault not only provides students with a greater understanding, but also helps educate them on what to do if they have been affected by sexual assault.
“Katie Koestner is one of the first people to come out and publicly speak about sexual assault happening on campus,” Sebeniecher said. “She’s an advocate and educator who focuses on prevention.”
Sebeniecher, the Galerstein Women’s Center, and the Title IX office were all partners in the annual “Take Back the Night” presentation, and the Counseling Center set up booths for support to students triggered by the event.
“It’s a great way to get all of our resources in one spot, do some advocating, do some educating, show support to our survivors and hopefully someone learns something,” Sebeniecher said.
While it is not her first time speaking to college students, Katie Koestner said she enjoyed educating all students on the subject despite it being difficult at first.
“We run about 600 events around the world every year,” Koestner said. “The foundation is all volunteer (based) and we just help facilitate and get people started and then they can really do it any way they want. It’s not a one size fits all.”
Although the foundation schedules many events to speak to college students all around the world, Koestner said that it is not enough just to have a speaker come in once, and that it is important that campuses implement a program that is thorough in educating students on sexual violence.
“Don’t just try to do one orientation online, really integrate it all the time,” Koestner said. “Involve as many people as you can and as many departments as you can.”
Amongst other students who attended the event, freshman Nithya Balachandran said the event at UTD was very enlightening and helped her learn that it is important to stand your ground and be strong, even in the worst situations.
“I think this event is really important whether you are a survivor or know someone who went through something similar, because rape happens so often and when anybody tries to report it, their case doesn’t usually go through,” Balachandran said. “It’s also important because (Koestner) shared her story and great advice that everybody should keep in mind.”
Koestner said that equality among male and female college students is crucial in the fight against sexual assault. She also said that while college students are the focus, it is also important that there is nobody in a positon of power that is considered untouchable, such as a professor or other faculty.
“If you don’t create equality, then you have lost the battle,” Koestner said. “The only person telling us we can’t is ourselves.”