Sexual assault victims, counselors and friends raised their candles Wednesday night at the “Take Back The Night” event on the Reitz Union Colonnade.
The candlelight vigil came after community members read testimonials about the impact of sexual violence, ranging from rape victims to their partners.
April marks the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, during which victim advocates from organizations at the University of Florida and Alachua County hope to create greater awareness of rape.
Ashley Cortez, a victim advocate with the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center and an organizer of the event, emphasized the need for better public understanding in order to stop sexual assault.
Rachel Hennessey, a peer educator with Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education at Gatorwell, began the open mic portion of the evening, telling the story of her sexual assault. Hennessey said events like “Take Back the Night” exist because rape and sexual assault are so misunderstood.
“Sexual assault and rape are not about sex, they’re about power,” she said. “Rape is a violent crime. It can happen to anyone.”
The crowd applauded Santa Fe College sophomore Elliott Capers for being one of the few men at the event when he spoke about his girlfriend’s sexual assault and how it affected them both. Capers said he went to the event to show his support for her.
The event concluded with victims and allies of all ages lifting about 75 candles in the air, one by one, and then bowing their heads.
Victim advocates are available through the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center as well as the UF Police Department.
Rebekah Geier edited this story online.