Cars driving by the center of campus rolled down their windows and honked as passerby shouted in support of the marchers who came out, despite the brisk temperatures, to participate in the March to End Victim Blaming, hosted by UConn’s Revolution Against Rape (RAR) group. Formerly known as SlutWalk: The March to End Victim Blaming, the march took place on Friday, starting on Fairfield Way, followed by remarks from keynote speakers and a student speakout. The event was followed by a debriefing, providing a safe and intimate environment for participants to express and discuss the topics of sexual violence and victim blaming. The march has taken place annually since 2011.
Adorned with signs with phrases such as “When we fight for the most oppressed, we fight for everyone” and “The absence of no does not mean yes,” the marchers rallied to raise awareness about the issue of gender-based violence and rape, especially on college campuses. Participants described the experience as “empowering” and “liberating,” especially as they shouted and stomped while marching around campus in support of survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
As discussed later in the debriefing, the march is not meant as a political message, despite the political implications that unfortunately become eschewed with sexual violence. The march is meant to be a healing experience for participants, surrounded by others who support survivors.
Rachel Stewart and Alex, co-founders of RAR and UConn graduates of the class of 2014, were key speakers at the beginning of the student speakout session of event. They discussed the presence of sexual assault in society, including the rise of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement. Their personal experiences have allowed them to emphasize with survivors and propelled them to initiate the discussion about fighting against victim blaming and sexual assault that many face.
“...I think up until that point, I’ve still been hyper focused on college sexual assault, and forgot that eventually college students grow up and start lives...but we stay survivors,” Stewart said in reference to the ‘Me Too’ movement. “These issues don’t just stop being relevant once you graduate, just as it’s so important to remember that college is not the only place that sexual assault happens...While we’re gathered here, and our own stories or the stories of our friends are first and foremost on our minds, it’s important to recall that the realities of sexual violence are so vast.”
“It’s awesome to see the legacy continue...this is still here and going strong and has the ability to impact so many people year after year,” Alex said about how representation and growth of the march shows how the movement lives on and continues to support survivors.
The student speakout portion provided a powerful and moving look into the experiences of attendees who spoke. The experiences were varied and diverse, as were the survivors who spoke, ranging from sexual harassment and assault experienced from past relationships and at different ages, to being targeted by mentors who used their power and position over the survivor. Some speakers talked about survivors they knew in their life. The portion proved emotional for many, and the speakers are commended for sharing their stories.
The event emphasized how there are only survivors of sexual harassment and assault, not victims. No matter the experience, it is valid and the survivor is never at fault. They are brave and strong, and whether or not they decide to publicly share their story does not detract from that fact.
Annastasia Martineau, president of RAR, spoke during the debriefing on how to support a friend or loved one who has disclosed their experience to you. She said it helps to suggest to the survivor that they can seek professional help and offer them resources, but not to force them to do so. You can continue to support them in any capacity, such as offering to go with them if they seek professional help.
“Me too is not the destination, it’s the place that you start,”Stewart quoted Burke from when the movement founder had spoken at her college at an event. “The movement is what happens after you say ‘Me too.’”The march provides a powerful starting point for those wishing to support survivors and fight against victim blaming and sexual violence.
Hollie Lao is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.