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'Speak Out' Illuminates Hope for Sufferers of Sexual Assault

What is a candle? A candle emits light and brightens up a place that has been darkened. If a place within a person is solemn and despairing, the lighting of a candle by someone else is a show of support. The lighting screams, "You are not alone!" A candle is a beacon of hope that fills the room; it emanates the solidarity of others for what you've felt, and you suddenly feel as though there's light at the end of the tunnel.

The radiating flame of each person's candle in the vigil integrates everyone into a state of harmony so that all those that have ever hurt you no longer have the power to do so; you are shielded from the pain he caused you; you are safe from the haunting thoughts that lurk in your nightmares. You are protected because you know you are not alone in your plight fighting for women's empowerment against sexual assault—that is a candle.

Boston College's Bystander Intervention organization hosted "Speak Out: Standing Up To Sexual Violence Through The Arts" in order to commemorate all those who have experienced sexual assault and want to seek healing through performance and advocacy, as well as anyone wanting to show support for the cause. Bystander Intervention teamed up with various groups throughout the BC community for the event, such as The Acoustics, BC SLAM! and Laughing Medusa in order to fill the night with poetry, art, music and prose inspired by sexual and gender-based violence.

Alison Landes, CSON '16, is one of the event's chief coordinators and a Bystander Intervention member. "Our goal, as members of the Bystander Intervention community, is to make campus a safe place, where we all stand up to sexual violence and take care of one another instead of standing by," Landes said. "With this event, we hope to move closer toward that goal by igniting a conversation about the reality of sexual assault and by allowing people to tell their stories. Our hope is that this will be a night not only of sharing, but of healing and empowerment, where we stand up against this issue together and support each other moving forward."

One in five women is sexually assaulted in her college years and one in 33 men is assaulted in his adult years. Assuming that these statistics are just as applicable at BC as on other college campuses, we can reason that "our campus is not only home to many survivors of sexual violence, but also to countless friends and family members of survivors, who are also affected," explained Landes.

Thus, the goal of Speak Out was to create a forum for reflecting out loud about experiences of sexual assault, and empowering all people affected by this epidemic, whether victims themselves or the friends and family of victims. "Sexual assault affects all of us in different ways," said Landes, "but by speaking out and standing up we can be part of the movement to end sexual violence on our campus."

Selly Sallah / Gavel Media

Selly Sallah / Gavel Media

As the event begins you enter a dark room. It seems pitch black as your eyes are still adjusting to the sudden change. You hope you don't bump into anyone because the room echoes voices; it is bustling with people. You were expecting a well lit room—reminiscent of the lecture hall's normal, daytime use—with people sitting politely in the rows of seats, awaiting a mellow night of entertainment. After all, you ask yourself, how engaging can poetry possibly be?

The room begins to brighten, but ever so slightly, and small flames flicker in every person's lap. The electric tea lights wink and beckon people into the room. You grab a candle for yourself and take a seat, now not really knowing what to expect.

Behind the stage hangs painted banner of a symbolic candle and above it reads the message: "Your inner light has the power to light up the world." A blackboard filled with details about the event is adorned with shinning fairy lights that trail on the floor and hug the microphone used by the evening's performers. The lights cast a soft shadow on their faces.

The performances are empowering renditions of personal experience, or artistic performances on the subject of sexual assault; either way, through their craft the performers ignite the force of protest. They join in relaying tales of their pain through self-expression and protesting the actions of all those who think it okay to overpower someone against his or her will.

The event climaxes into an emotional evening, everyone's story touching, but also excruciating to hear. Each performer shares in communicating the insufferable feeling of being stripped of the ability to say "no" and the necessity of stopping perpetrators rather than blaming victims. The women speaking at Stand Up hardly victimize themselves, though—at least for the night, they are fearless.

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