Students march to raise sexual assault awareness


On Tuesday night, Pitt students marched a mile loop through campus to take a stand against sexual assault. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

By Janine Faust / Staff Writer

Kara Kloss vividly recalls the most recent incident of sexual assault she’s faced on Pitt’s campus. She was waiting alone for a bus outside of Towers on Fifth Avenue last spring semester when it occurred.

“This very tall man came up behind me, pulled his pants down and then grabbed me and shoved my face into his genitals,” Kloss, a senior political science major, said. “I managed to get out of his grip, and then I just ran away as fast as I could. I ended up taking a bus down near Bellefield.”

Though she managed to get away, that experience was not Kloss’s first sexually violent experience. She said she was also sexually assaulted at a party during her first year at Pitt, and she said it took a long time for her to to feel ready to talk about it.

According to Kloss, these events influenced her to participate in Pitt Campus Women’s Organization’s Take Back the Night march, an annual event that seeks to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual violence in today’s society and to show support for those who have survived it.

According to Abby Meinen, a senior English writing major and president of CWO, about 100 people attended the event Tuesday night during which marchers snaked a mile-long course through Oakland, starting and ending at the Union driveway. The protesters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “People unite to take back the night!” while waving signs with slogans such as ”My body isn’t yours,” “Rape is not a Pitt tradition” and “Ask, listen, respect.”

According to Meinen, the march is one of the organization’s longer running traditions and advocates for a safer public space for women as well as other minority groups such as disabled and gender non-binary people.

“Take Back the Night is especially relevant this year, considering the social and political climate our country’s currently experiencing and how much attention is being drawn to street violence and harassment because of it,” Meinen said.

Waving a pair of pink pom-poms, Kloss helped fire up those participating in the march on Tuesday night during their trek through South Oakland, chanting “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”

Saron Shiferaw, a Pitt graduate student studying social work, said she often feels unsafe on Pitt’s campus, particularly at night when she walks back home to her apartment where she lives alone. According to Shiferaw, she’s been conscious since a young age of the prevalence of sexual harassment. The first time Shiferaw remembers being harassed was when she was filling up her car’s gas tank as a teenager.

“I was wearing baggy pants and a long-sleeve shirt, and these men nearby were licking their lips and making comments about my outfit even though it wasn’t revealing or tight at all,” Shiferaw said.

Shiferaw said she doesn’t believe she or anybody else ought to be afraid to walk around on campus or any place familiar to them based on what time of day it is or what they’re wearing.

“We need to break the taboo on talking openly about sexual assault and harassment,” Shiferaw said. “I [have] friends I can vent with about this kind of stuff, but we need a stronger push to make sure these things don’t happen in the first place. That’s why I’m walking [in the march]: to raise awareness.”

Paige Kizior, a junior studying social work, came to the march not only to raise awareness but also to see that people cared about what happened to her and other survivors of sexual assault. During her first year at Pitt, Kizior said she was assaulted in the restroom of a Saint Patrick’s Day party at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Kizior said she’s heard stories online about friends and families not believing victims when they talk about being sexually assaulted.

“It’s nice to come to this event and see how many people really do care and want to change how society treats sexual assault,” Kizior said. “I feel safe at this rally, like I can talk to people about what happened to me, and they’ll listen.”

After the protesters finished their march around campus, they returned to the William Pitt Union Ballroom, where they’d first convened, to munch on pizza and participate in a discussion on bystander intervention with representatives of Pitt’s Office for Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education. The speakers talked about techniques people can utilize to separate a possible victim from a perpetrator and invited the audience to share their ideas for what to do in scenarios where they suspect someone is in danger of being sexually violated.

According to Megan Heintz — a sophomore political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major and one of the SHARE speakers Tuesday night — most sexual assaults committed on campus occur at parties as a result of the “hook-up culture” of colleges.

Heintz said perpetrators of sexual assault often don’t think what they are doing is wrong because it’s “part of the ‘party experience.’” With more conversation, Heintz said, students can fight against the idea that the party atmosphere condones sexual violence.

“Nobody does anything because they assume someone else will take care of it,” Heintz said. “Events like Take Back the Night make people face how prevalent sexaul violence really is and how more people need to step up to fight it.”

At Pitt, more than one in five women said they have experienced some form of sexual assault during their four years on campus. According to Pitt’s report on the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, this breaks down into 10.1 percent of participating female undergraduates who said they had experienced nonconsensual penetration and 15.6 percent of female undergraduates who said they had been victims of sexual touching.Lauren Fabrizio — a sophomore English literature major as well as the public relations co-chair for CWO — said Take Back the Night provides survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones a chance to proclaim their support for ending sexual crimes on Pitt’s campus and beyond.

“Street harassment and sexual assault is still happening, and it’s going to keep happening unless we all rise up and take back the night,” Fabrizio said.

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