In the Kelvin Smith Library Oval, students sit clustered in small groups, holding votive candles. Black wooden silhouettes of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are scattered through the area. Everyone is quiet.
“Everyone’s story can end up seeming the same, but what happened and how it happened is always different.”
Khailing Neoh is speaking for a friend tonight. As president of the Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (SAVE), the Case Western Reserve University sophomore stands before more than a hundred people in the KSL Oval.
“I stand here tonight because I don’t want what happened to my friend to happen to anyone,” she says. “I’m here because this story needs to be told.”
The second annual Voices Against Violence event, held on Oct. 10, is designed to be a safe place for victims of domestic violence and their friends and family to tell their stories, and to show people what it truly means to be a survivor.
“This type of event, hearing these people’s stories, it’s something everyone should experience once,” Neoh said. “You hear about domestic violence, and it’s like car crashes in the movies. It’s horrible, but you think, ‘that’s not real, it’s not going to happen to me.’”
Thirty-nine percent of women report that they have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. More than 12 million people are victims of domestic violence in the United States each year— about 24 per minute. On the CWRU campus, there were 12 forcible sexual offenses reported in 2012, up from only two in 2011 and three in 2010.
“The only way we can hope to change these numbers is to carry in ourselves the idea that these numbers are not inevitable,” said Alex Leslie, a Prevention Specialist at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. “Once we carry that hope in us that we do matter, that the way we treat others matters, that’s when we can start to move forward.”
Whenever someone finished telling a story, the audience responded with a warm round of applause and some comforting hugs.
“Sharing your story is such a big part of being a survivor,” said one speaker. “You don’t know how much you can help those around you.”
October is domestic violence awareness month, and SAVE, along with the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, are working hard to encourage victims of violence or assault to get the help they deserve.
Resources are available at Campus Security, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, University Counseling Services and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.