TAMPA (FOX 13) - Survivors of sexual violence shared their stories, some for the first time in public, for the 11th annual “Take Back the Night” event on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.
Caroline Jackson, a USF student and keynote speaker, bravely spoke about being sexually assaulted her freshmen year at the university at the dormitory of a male friend she thought she could trust.
“For hours, I said no, I was told sorry and then I was violated again,” said Jackson. “The cycle continued throughout the night, and even the next day.”
Jackson said she was frozen with fear at the time, making her physically unable to leave the dorm room. For years, she was afraid to share her story.
“Last year, I volunteered to be a part of the Speak Out at Take Back the Night. I had to get up on stage twice, because the first time I stood up to speak, I saw the person who assaulted me in the audience,” explained Jackson. “I broke down, and I had to walk away. It was really powerful when I was able to get the courage to come back on stage."
Anyone in the audience on Tuesday was given the chance to share their story. People were told to turn off their phones and cameras to give victims the courage to speak out.
Speakers, both male and female, talked about their sexual assaults, ranging from childhood rape to abusive relationships in college.
“You sometimes just don’t even know it. You could be talking to someone every day, and then you throw an event like this and people come forward. It just really puts into perspective how silenced the issue is,” said Alex Pellot, the organizer of Take Back the Night.
A silent march was held through the campus.
“There’s such a culture of silence around sexual assault and abuse, and a lot of people who experience sexual assault in college feel like they can’t tell anyone,” said Jackson.
In 2015, there were six reports of rape on the campus of USF, according to USF Police. It’s a decrease from 12 in 2014.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren also spoke at the event, telling students his goal is to bring justice to victims of sexual violence.
Survivors who spoke said they hope sharing their story will encourage others to speak out about their experience to help with their healing process during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.