Candles lined the sidewalk on Sunday night as students left the Gathering. The 599 candles represented the national average of one in three women and one in six men raped in their lifetime as applied to John Brown University’s student population.
Students Against Sexual Slavery (SASS) hosted the University’s first Rape Awareness Week, starting on Sunday night after the Gathering.
Krista Gay, one of the leaders of SASS, said it is important to remember each of those candles, while representing a statistic of a rape survivor, also represents a person who has their own dreams and trials along with others who care for them.
“This is personal. It should be,” said Gay.
On Monday night, the group showed a video of members of SASS reading the true testimonies of rape survivors who are students at the University followed by a talk back session with a member of Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center.
Tuesday the group focused on gaining support for a piece of legislation currently moving through the federal government renewing efforts to strengthen rape laws across the nation.
The following night a rape survivor came and talked to students about her personal experience. The speaker felt ostracized by the church after she was raped and became pregnant as a result.
Gay said her talk focused on how Christians can support rape survivors in the church.
“We were never told ‘no, don’t do this’, but we had to jump through a lot of hoops,” said Gay.
Some faculty and departments on campus were concerned that members of the student body, especially rape survivors, could be offended. Taking this into consideration, the group made sure all of their events—aside from the candles lit along the sidewalk on Sunday night and the table in the student center with information—were attended by choice.
Gay also said she understands seeing rape discussed or just knowing students are talking about rape could be difficult for a survivor who is not at a place of healing yet and if any feel that way she wants them to talk to her about it.
“But I have not met that survivor on campus yet,” said Gay. She also said the 22 rape survivors on campus who have shared their story with her, including two she did not know before this week, have all been very supportive. The original idea to host a week dedicated to rape awareness came from a survivor on campus.
SASS had three main objectives for Rape Awareness Week. Their first and primary objective was to help survivors by plugging them into different resources, like the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center where Gay works as an intern.
She said one survivor she had not previously known told her after this week she now has the courage to tell her story.
Their second objective for the week is to raise awareness about rape.
“I can not tell you how many people did not know men could be raped,” said Gay.
She also said many people seem to have a perception that rape does not happen in Christian communities.
Part of this perception leads to the group’s third and final objective to help students know what to say when a rape survivor opens up to them, especially if they are the first person the survivor has told their story.
“The most crucial thing is to not say anything that blames them,” said Gay. She also wanted students to know it is okay if they do not think they can provide the support the survivor needs but it is important to help the survivor find resources where they can find that support.
“When a rape survivor tells you’re their story, believe them,” said Gay.
The main two reasons Gay said rape survivors do not share their story and do not report what happened to them is because they do not think people will believe them and they believe knowing they were raped will change people’s perception of them.
“Even though it feels like we have had a lot of opposition, there has been so much more support,” said Gay. “So we have been really thankful for that.”