UA Little Rock’s Criminal Justice department hosted a sexual violence awareness event called Take Back the Night last Wednesday, where survivors of rape and sexual assault recounted their stories and representatives from a number of anti-sex crime groups provided information and advice.
The event hosted three speakers, a musical performance by local artists Chana Caylor and Tara Bratton, and concluded with a candlelight march and balloon release in honor of victims of sexual violence. With sponsorship from corporations like Candlewood Suites and ADS Data Direct, the event also served as a fundraiser for Partners Against Human Trafficking.
Take Back the Night’s main speaker was Brandi Smith, who suffered a series of rapes and threats at the hands of her husband, culminating in 2016 with a vicious assault that left her in need 15 surgeries.
It was Smith’s 11th speaking event since the attack, and the first at which she spoke about the rape that went on in her home. She acknowledged that some of the audience members themselves may have been victims of similar crimes, and addressed them in her speech.
“I think a lot of times it’s such a problem because you don’t want to go forward and be the person that everybody talks about on campus, or at school,” Smith said. “It’s hard and I get it, but you have to be a voice. You have to be the voice because if you don’t say anything, then it’s going to happen again and again and next time it may be worse.”
She also exhorted audience members to refrain from victim-blaming and making excuses for rape, reminding them that in all circumstances, “no means no.”
“I’ve been through a lot, my kids have been through a lot,” Smith said near the close of her speech. “I can’t go through everything, but what my kids have been through gives me the courage and inspiration to, every day, get up and be able to do what I do, whether I’m having a bad day or not.”
Other speakers included Megan Bowers, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Casonia Vinson, Clinical Program Director for Partners Against Human Trafficking.
Though Bowers belongs to an organization focused on combating sexual assault, she spoke as a survivor rather than a representative of that organization.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that, when you’re attacked, it’s usually by somebody you know very close and dear to your heart,” Bowers said.
She endured three such instances of sexual violence, and her grandmother now unwittingly owns the house in which one of these assaults occurred. This house is also the gathering point for Bowers’ family on Christmas Eve.
“But, with all that said, I’m also here to tell you guys that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Bowers said. “For any of you guys that have been sexually assaulted, or you know someone who has, there is something good that comes out of it, as weird as that may sound. I’m stronger as a person, because I’m able to stand up here and talk to all of you guys.”