Twitter account @SurvivorsUF was created on June 28 as a platform for students at the University of Florida to anonymously share their firsthand experiences with sexual harassment.
In its first two weeks online, the account garnered over 60 student reports.
‘Sexual harassment’ – in this case – was used as an umbrella term to include unwelcome sexual advances, or physical conduct of sexual nature; requests for sexual favors, displayed as an implicit or explicit condition of employment or education; or other unwanted verbal and physical sexual conduct. As of May 7, 2020, Title IX expanded to include stalking, domestic violence and dating violence under the term.
Inspired by similar accounts made to expose sexual harassment endured at Florida colleges – specifically the University of South Florida account, @SurvivorsUSF – the account was created with the goal of inviting survivors of sexual assault to share the harrowing situations they’ve endured during their time at UF.
The creator(s) running the account wished to remain anonymous to protect the integrity of the mission, which can be viewed in its entirety here.
In addition, those coming forward are promised anonymity. To recount a firsthand experience with sexual assault, anybody can direct message the Twitter account. The account creator(s) then respond to each submission personally to provide support and a safe space.
UF student Isabela Estrada (a prior acquaintance of this reporter) noticed the account when a friend of hers retweeted one of its posts, and decided she wanted to come forward with her own story. Estrada likened the process of submitting her experience to a rant: a lot of emotions at the time with a rush of relief after getting it off her chest. She was then able to read through others’ accounts and recognize that she was not alone in her pain.
“Seeing the other posts made me feel a myriad of emotions,” Estrada said. “I felt understood. I felt helpless. I felt bad that all these people had to go through horrible things, but I also felt a sense of relief that others understood.”
This was the goal of the account creator(s), but they aren’t stopping there. @SurvivorsUF is drafting a list of requests to submit to UF administration including “more support for survivors, transparent reporting processes, and more action to proactively educate members of the UF community about consent.”
Additionally, to address the large number of testimonies involving Greek life, they hope to partner with Green Dot Gators, a group that fosters proactive bystanders and provides education strategies to prevent harm from occurring on and off campus.
“Our vision is to address the situations that have happened in the past, but also be proactive in preventing power-based personal violence from happening to anyone else,” @SurvivorsUF said.
Additionally, the creator(s) are working on a list of national and Gainesville-area resources including the Office of Title IX Compliance, the UF Police Department and the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC).
Sara Nash, a licensed mental health counselor and clinical associate professor at the CWC, said she was blown away by the large number of people coming forward with stories. She feels this generation of students is able to openly talk about things that were taboo when she was younger, thanks to social media and shifting social norms.
“It’s powerful to see how quickly [the Twitter account] is spreading, but it’s unfortunate to see the quantity of stories,” Nash said.
Through 15 years of counseling experience, Nash said she has learned that acknowledging what happened and finding peers who understand are significant parts of recovery. As a rape survivor herself, Nash believes that “the longer we are alone with these things, the more detrimental they become.”
Nash is hopeful that the conversations opened around this topic will encourage more people to seek help, especially in terms of mental health. The CWC has many professional counselors and therapists to help people one-on-one, as well as group therapy specifically for survivors.
“Shining light on these instances is critical,” Nash said. “It’s a necessary step, but not the only step.”