It Happens Here aims to empower the voices of sexual violence survivors

Students shared narratives about sexual violence during It Happens Here in Cohen Auditorium on April 4.(Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence.

Students shared narratives about sexual violence to a full audience in Cohen Auditorium during It Happens Here on Tuesday night. All narratives submitted to the event, which were unedited by the steering committee, were from Tufts students. Some students read their own pieces and some had their narratives read by volunteers.

This year marks the fourth annual It Happens Here event at Tufts. Members of the event’s steering committee explained that the purpose of It Happens Here is to empower the voices of survivors of sexual violence and provide a platform for survivors to share their healing processes.

Event organizers advised attendees not to clap, as the event was not a performance. They also emphasized that It Happens Here is a critical part of addressing the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses because, although many people are aware of statistics and have learned about sexual violence in health classes, survivors of sexual assault are rarely given the opportunity to explain the problem in their own voices and through their personal experiences.

Organizers further explained that It Happens Here is designed to combat the culture of silence that frequently surrounds the problem of sexual violence and to spark meaningful discussions. The It Happens Here project was started by students at Middlebury College in 2011, and as stated by the program handed out before the event, the project aims to give power to survivors’ voices.

The diversity in gender and experience of students who shared their accounts further indicated the prevalence of incidents of sexual violence among members of the Tufts community.

Several students highlighted similar points, including the importance of seeking help and the fact that the healing and recovery processes are different for every survivor. Survivors also discussed the difficulties of dealing with the long term effects of acts of sexual violence on their daily lives, relationships and academics.

One recurring element of many survivors’ accounts was the trauma caused by having to see their assailants, who often were known to the survivors, around campus. Several survivors also spoke out against the culture of victim-blaming and the tendency to teach defensive strategies to prevent situations involving sexual violence, rather than actively teaching people not to commit sexual assault.

Organizers informed audience members that support resources were available nearby in case they needed to talk to someone during the event. The Interfaith Center was also open after the session as a space for students to decompress, discuss and find support, and Sexual Misconduct Resource Specialist Nandi Bynoe was present to speak with students.

Additionally, members of the steering committee emphasized that other support resources are also available to students beyond It Happens Here. Audience members were encouraged to seek help when needed, and to utilize both confidential and non-confidential support options on campus and in the Boston area.

The It Happens Here program listed resources available to help students in a range of areas, including the processes for receiving medical assistance, navigating the sexual misconduct reporting process and accessing free and confidential counseling.

Several survivors highlighted the importance of not giving up hope and of remembering that no one is alone. Event organizers concluded by encouraging students to break the silence surrounding the problem of sexual violence in order to make Tufts a safer and more intentional campus.