The Young Women’s Christian Association McLean County Stepping Stones hosted a rally outside of the Mclean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington today.
The event began around 6 p.m. A crowd of at least 20 individuals gathered together to listen to the stories of sexual assault survivors and share their support for changing the culture that helped make it happen.
The event began with YWCA McLean County CEO and President Dontae Laston giving a speech thanking everyone for gathering and spreading a message of hope and love for victims of sexual assault.
“Whether it’s through poem or song, we are here to acknowledge, love and celebrate all the survivors of sexual assault and to further honor those that are at a place in their process where they can share their story and their journey of becoming a survivor,” Laston said.
After Laston spoke, the all-female Illinois Wesleyan University Acapella Group performed two songs with themes of empowering those that have survived sexual assault.
Shortly afterwards, five survivors of sexual assault could share their story with the crowd. Two survivors came up and shared their story directly, one even sharing a poem they wrote to themselves to help address the process they went through. Other survivors had members of Stepping Stones represent them and read their stories.
Once the survivors spoke, candles were passed out to the crowd and a 92-second-long moment of silence was issued to honor survivors and their loved ones all around the world.
Following the moment of silence, the group began their demonstration by walking around downtown Bloomington with a megaphone and signs promoting Sexual Assault awareness month. Audience members joined Stepping Stones and were given a list of phrases to shout as they marched around the city.
Phrases included, “We have the power, we have the might! The streets are ours! Take back the night,” as well as, “Sex and rape are not the same! We are not the ones to blame,” and many more.
Hilary Pacha, Senior Director of Prevention and Empowerment Services, said the event’s goal is to “bring awareness to sexual assault in our community.”
“Survivors get to share their stories, and everyone gathers for a march around downtown Bloomington,” Pacha said. “We call it ‘Take Back the Night’ because we are expressing our right to walk freely and be safe in our community.”
Pacha said the significance of events like these stems from the growing awareness in society that sexual assault occurs frequently in communities all around the world.
“People need to know that sexual assault does exist in the community,” Pacha continued. “It’s important for survivors to share their story and for community members to hear them and take them seriously.”
Pacha said that there are a lot of different ways that students can help spread awareness of these issues and get involved.
“Whether it’s volunteering with Stepping Stones or a local crisis center or even when you see something, be able to safely intervene or know the different signs,” Pacha said.
“If you’re out and you see someone who is intoxicated and you see that someone is potentially taking advantage of them, then you can safely intervene. If you don’t feel safe, find someone who can safely intervene, like local law enforcement or staff.”
Pacha said other things you can do to help the cause are within your own social life. Pacha suggested that if you hear your friends making sexist, racist or other jokes that are harmful to society and the culture, you should not tolerate it and put an end to it whenever possible. Another tip she suggested is educating yourself on what sexual assault is and isn’t.