The girls came up to the podium. They had nervous and rambling voices. Tiffany Caldas was one of the last to speak about how she was sexually assaulted.
Caldas is chair of No Zebras: Canes Against Sexual Assault, which hosted Take Back the Night Wednesday night, an event where people who were sexually assaulted could tell their stories and gain closure or take back their voices.
Caldas told the story of how she went on vacation with her family for her sister’s wedding. One night she had too much to drink and was raped. The day after, Caldas pretended as if nothing happened. She smiled for wedding photos. Nine months would pass until she told her mother. She was 16 years old.
Take Back the Night was the last of four events the club hosted for National Sexual Awareness Month.
The night opened with an anecdote by University of Miami Professor Evelina Galang, director of creative writing. She spoke about the plight of Filipino comfort women, groups of women during World War II who were forced into sexual service for Japanese military personnel.
Each event throughout the month had a different purpose but stayed tied to the central theme of Sexual Awareness Month. For example, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, the first event held April 10, was where more than 50 men, student and faculty leaders, wore high heels and walked from the Rock to Richter Library and back.
“I never thought I was going to see my boyfriend in red stiletto heels,” Caldas said.
Caldas said she saw more men than women at the gathering. No Zebras wanted men to get involved in the process of speaking out against rape.
“I think the whole rape movement is mostly involved with women,” Caldas said. “But I think it’s also important to get men involved because men are also affected.” She pointed out that men have wives, sisters, girlfriends or even mothers that could have been raped.
For women to have the chance to be protected, the club hosted a free self-defense class at the Wellness Center on April 14. The group learned a safe stance, striking techniques and how to escape an attacker who tries to grab you.
Angela Rose, a survivor of a sexual assault, visited the faculty apartment in Hecht April 19 to speak about her experience. Rose was abducted by a stranger when she was 17 years old. By being friendly, she was eventually able to make her attacker take her back to the place from where she was taken.
“Even though she was a great speaker, it’s important to point out that her story is very rare,” Caldas said.
Research has shown that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by a person close to the victim.
According to Caldas, many people came forward and told their own stories after Angela Rose’s talk, which was something she did not expect. One-third of attendees were male.
Throughout the month, No Zebras promoted their cause through a ribbon campaign. They gave out blue and black striped ribbons and sold club shirts in the UC Breezeway. They asked students to sign a pledge vowing to do their best to end sexual violence.
“I can honestly say that last year [when I was not a member] I didn’t see or hear anything about Sexual Awareness Month,” said Coral Millican, publicity chair of No Zebras.
“We’ve made a lot of progress promoting the events.”
Take Back the Night had a wide turnout.
Sophomore Brett Feldman came with his girlfriend. He had never been worried before about the topic of sexual assault but believed hearing about it was a valuable experience.
“I have very important women in my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to them.”
Feldman wanted to find information on what to do if an incident like that occurred to someone he knows.
“Sometimes your friends get too drunk and you need to be a watchdog,” he said.
After the emotional stories, the attendees were given teal glow sticks to represent the color of Sexual Awareness Month. They chanted and walked somberly around Lake Osceola saying, “Claim our bodies. Claim our rights. Take a stand. Take Back the Night.”
At the end of the night, participants were asked to sign a pledge to end sexual violence.
“My main thing that I wanted to come out of this was not only to see people becoming affected and be aware,” Caldas said. “But I wanted No Zebras to become a familiar name around campus, which I definitely believe is starting to happen.”
Andrea Concepcion may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.