Within the circle of candles, survivors shared stories. They told one another how they had overcome instances of sexual assault or domestic violence. And they said they were not alone.
About 100 people gathered in South Park on Wednesday night for Together Strong, an event organized by The Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity, GaDuGi SafeCenter and The Willow Domestic Violence Center. The event, formerly known as Take Back the Night, focuses on raising awareness about the issues of sexual and domestic violence within the Lawrence community.
“A lot of times people like to hide it, and it makes it worse,” said Aimee Eickmann, director of community engagement for the Willow Domestic Violence Center. “If we bring awareness to the issue like tonight, it really begins to help and allow people to heal.”
In the candle circle, survivors to spoke out about what happened to them. Violence survivors also wrote their experiences on T-shirts, creating a visual representation of both suffering and triumph.
“It’s a therapeutic outlet for survivors to have a way to tell their story,” said Shannon Reid, GaDuGi volunteer advocate, as she viewed the line of shirts.
The night was about education and healing. Groups such as the Commission for the Status of Women and Kansas NOW were on hand to offer education about services for survivors and to inform about issues of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“Look out for the signs and be aware that, yes, it happens in such a large, large portion to women, but it also happens to people who you wouldn’t expect it to happen to,” said Katherine Gwynn, public outreach coordinator of the Commission for the Status of Women. “People have this idea that, ‘Oh, if you are a strong woman, this isn’t going to happen to you,’ but that’s not the case.”
According to the Lawrence Police Department, 25 rapes were reported in the first six months of 2012. Reported rapes have been down from previous years’ totals, dropping to 41 reported cases in 2011 from 52 in 2010 and 71 in 2000. A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 5 women in the United States have been raped and 1 in 4 women have been victims of severe violence by an intimate partner. Eickmann said there are steps people can take to help deal with this issue.
“The biggest thing that people can do if they know someone is going through an abusive situation or has had a sexual assault happen to them,” Eickmann said, “is to be there to listen, to help in any way they possibly can, to be available and to let their friends and co-workers know that there are agencies in town that are equipped to help them with issues like that.”