‘Ignite the Night’ sparks discussion of sexual assault

Concluding Sexual Assault Awareness month, several student and community organizations hosted an ‘Ignite the Night’ event on the campus of Sam Houston State University on Wednesday.

Sean Smith | The Houstonian

Sean Smith | The Houstonian

Ignite the Night was an event cosponsored by SAAFE House, the Dean of Students Office, the Crime Victim Services Alliance, the University Police Department, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Counseling Center and the Office for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Initiatives.

SAAFE House Education Coordinator Victoria White said the primary purpose for the event is to show victims the community and university stand together against sexual assault.

“The purpose of [Ignite the Night] is for advocates, supporters and allies to stand together in solidarity and be proactive in preventing future acts of sexual assault in our community while simultaneously showing our support to those who are survivors of sexual crimes,” White said.

A group of students, faculty, UPD officers and members of the community congregated in the Ron and Linda Mafridge Auditorium where they heard several speakers including the testimony of a sexual assault survivor, SHSU Title IX Coordinator Jeanine Bias and UPD Officer Keith Underwood.

“I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing and working on more family violence scenes than I can count, both as a photographer and as a police officer,” Underwood said. “They range from minor arguments to shattered lives and years of resonating heartbreak. I’ve related stories of the worst cases I’ve lived through, where bloody victims hang their head admitting that tomorrow the monster that did this will be walking back into their house.”

According to Bias, education is one of the biggest preventative measures one can take when it comes to sexual assault awareness and is becoming a university-wide initiative.

“In education we always teach about safe sex and we always teach about condoms and STDs, but we never talk about consent and bystander intervention,” Bias said. “We talk about sex, but we don’t talk about healthy relationships, and that is one thing as an institution we want to start concentrating on and education [students] on.”

According to White, sexual assault, as defined by SAAFE House, is “attacks/attempted attacks involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender.” This can also include “sexual verbal threats.”

White said that if someone is sexually assaulted, the best thing they can do is seek support which can mean many different things.

“This may be contacting law enforcement to pursue prosecution, seeking counseling, having a forensic examination done, attending support groups with other survivors and advocates or even opening up to understanding and empathetic family members or friends about their assault,” White said. “Each victim must choose what is the best path for them to take on the journey from victim to survivor. I am elated to say that we have all of the aforementioned options available here in Huntsville.”

SAAFE House is one of those resources available in Huntsville for victims to utilize.

“SAAFE House can provide victims with one-on-one advocacy, support groups, assistance in navigating the legal system/options, resources and shelter when needed,” White said. “We can also provide education to our community through presentations and trainings in hopes of reducing the number of victims that we have a need to service.”

White admitted that although there is no 100 percent surefire way to avoid sexual assault, there are tips to lower the risk. Some of these tips include being aware of your surroundings, planning ahead and trusting your instincts.

“Don’t be a silent bystander,” White said. “If you see something that doesn’t look appropriate do something to intervene. Never put your own safety at risk, but contact law enforcement and/or get help from other people who are present.”

Underwood echoed White in saying that being a bystander is only contributing to the problem.

“We, as friends, as neighbors, as peers, as classmates, as Bearkats—have to speak up in defense of those who are unaware of imminent dangers,” Underwood said. “Of those who have been subjected to life where they’re regarded as a chess piece in a monster’s sick board game. Problems become powerful only when they are made personal. It’s on us to speak up and act instead of being spectators in a horror show.”


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