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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Mallorie Turner
Campus Reporter

Destiny Houston is a survivor and she’ll be the first to tell you. In the time since her attack, she’s learned to survive and, in turn, thrive. 
“I can honestly say I was able to grow by building trust in my relationships, not just romantically, but socially and with networking,” Houston said. “Getting past it affects my quality of life and ability to move forward each and every day.”  

It has motivated her to be the person she is today citing her survival as “the last push to go into [social work] and inspired a passion.” As part of the UAB’s recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Houston, a senior in social work, led Take Back the Night’s
Survivor Speak-Out, Wednesday, April 11. The event provided a safe space for survivors of sexual violence to come forth and give their experiences without restriction. 

“To me, it’s a month of awareness and being humble,” Houston said. “To me it’s a victory to overcome this and move forward. It’s a big deal.” In April, events across campuses nationwide work to raise awareness about sexual violence on campuses and elsewhere.  “Between 20 - 25 percent of college-aged women will experience actual or attempted sexual assault during the time they are enrolled,” Saundra K. Schuster, J.D said. “About 7 percent of college men will also experience sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault during the time they’re enrolled.

"Between 20 - 25 percent of college-aged women will experience actual or
attempted sexual assault during the time they are enrolled."
- Sandra K. Schuster

We know that more than half of the women fail to report [their assault] and we also know that about 30 percent of individuals who have been assaulted contemplate suicide.”Schuster, a partner with the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, led a two-part conference in Volker Hall, Tuesday, April 10, to educate students and employees on the purpose of Title IX.  
Title IX, created in 1972, is a law to prevent discrimination based on one’s sexual identity in educational programs and to cover cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment. 
The first Title IX Employee workshop was designed to help participants understand their responsibilities in reporting discriminatory incidents. The second session, Title IX Student Leadership Training, gave students tips on how to identify and actively respond to sexual discrimination. 
Victims of sexual assault commonly fail to report incidents due to fear of social ostracization by peers, Schuster said. 
“Sometimes individuals don’t initially identify what they experienced as a sexual assault,” she said. “Sometimes individuals are distrustful of the institution or distrustful of law​​​ enforcement, so they don’t want to make a report. And sometimes they are not emotionally ready. It was a traumatizing experience and they don’t want to continue to re-live that by making a report about it.” 
Title IX Coordinator Kasey Robinson, JD, MPA, introduced Schuster as the speaker for the evening’s conference. 
“Members of our community need ongoing education to continue to foster a climate of civility and respect on our campus,” Robinson said. “These trainings provide the tools for all members of our community.” 
Ashley Turner, a graduate student in the Department of Genetics, was an attendee at the student training session. Turner said that she has a personal interest in equity and equality in terms of gender and gender-based issues. Her involvement with UAB’s GRADient LGBTQ organization sparked her interest in learning about the options Title IX provided for these concerns.  
“[I wanted to] learn more about the particular laws that are in place.” Turner said. “I was unaware that federal law doesn’t provide coverage for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression however UAB has added [these] rights.” 
UAB Wellness Promotion’s Take Back the Night provided a space for students and others in the Birmingham community who had been affected by sexual assault. This year’s planning committee choose Time’s Up as the theme.  
The group choose to capitalize on the national movement because they said it was so rare to have a national conversation about sexual assault, according UAB’s Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator Mandy Parente, M.Ed., who helped organize the internationally recognized event.  
“Take Back the Night is really important because it’s a space for survivors of sexual violence and folks who know survivors of sexual violence to come forward and be able to say, ‘We don’t accept this,’ ‘This isn’t our fault,’ but also to be able to stand up and say: 
‘I’m a survivor. I’m going to heal. I’m going to move forward.’” Parente said. 
Original spoken word poetry pieces were presented by members of the Sister City Connection, an ensemble of passionate women who shared their grievances with sexual assault through powerful oral compositions. 
Houston said that a person can be an ally to sexual assault victims by simply being a support system by saying that it is not okay to contain your feelings and that you are free to speak your truth. 
“I feel the Take Back the Night event is so important because it gives students and others a free space to openly expose the stigma of sexual violence being so contained and so hurtful but it can also be a voice to others to be free,” Houston said. 
The event ended with a march from the New Freshman’s Residence Hall around the Campus Green with ralliers reciting chants that embodied the unwavering strength of sexual violence survivors everywhere. 
“I walked away feeling empowered, and that we are doing the right thing at UAB for our survivors,” Parente said.
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