‘It Happens Here’: Members of the Illini community share their experiences with sexual assault in a safe environment

By Masaki Sugimoto

One by one, members of the Illini community, all dressed in black, bravely faced their

peers and shared their experiences with sexual assault. Some chose to brand the story

as their own, while others kept their names and stories anonymous. Those who

attached their names to their pieces started their presentations with, “This is my story.”

On Monday, Students Against Sexual Assault organized “It Happens Here,” an annual

event that started last year with the purpose of giving students and staff a safe platform

to share their stories of sexual assault. According to Lincy Pompilus, senior in Social

Work and president of SASA, the main goal of “It Happens Here” is to provide survivors

with a safe and open environment where they can share their stories without the fear of

being judged or stigmatized.

“Oftentimes people want to share their stories but don’t want to have that (stigma)

attached to them,” Pompilus said. “So tonight’s event was meant to provide a different

avenue for people to do that as well as raise awareness and bring awareness to

campus. You never know who could be a survivor, and it’s closer to you than you may

think.”

Many of the stories of sexual assault that the participants shared occurred at locations

on campus. One student who anonymously shared her story named four well­known

locations on campus where she was sexually assaulted.

“We had a lot more people name places, like actual places on campus where it took

place,” Pompilus said. “I felt like that hit home for a lot of people.”

Many of the participants were also FYCARE facilitators and advocates for sexual

assault awareness.

Alex Nelson, graduate student in Social Work, said they wish this event wasn’t

necessary and that people didn’t have to share their stories in order to spread

awareness.

“When you take away someone’s humanity in any way, shape or form, you’re allowing

sexual violence to happen,” Nelson said. “You’re making it easier for other people to

enact those forms of violence, not because you’re belittling someone, more so you’re

sending a message that it’s OK to do so in the first place.”

Charlotte Prieu, graduate student in LAS, agreed that sharing personal experiences is a

great way to begin healing from the traumatic experience. Prieu’s poem, titled “For all

my former, current, future lovers and dates,” dealt with her experiences with sexual

misconduct, coercion, entitlement and everything she wishes she could say to her

perpetrators.

“I’ve been struggling for so long with not being able to put words on why I was

uncomfortable with what happened to me,” Prieu said. “And I’ve been able to be more

vocal about it … I’m really proud of myself for having been able to do that in a way that

looks like me, and it’s my way of saying that. I was angry, and I expressed it, and I was

OK with using profanity and everything.”

Many audience members teared up at the 12 stories that were read. Molly McLay, staff

member at the Women’s Resource Center and head of the committee for Sexual

Assault Awareness Month, helped organize the event. She also chose to share her

story at “It Happens Here” in order to inspire others to do the same.

To McLay, a survivor is not a broken person but someone who went through a

traumatizing experience and is finding a way to heal. She said she believes belittling

sexual violence dehumanizes survivors.

“It’s really important to always be supportive of survivors and also recognize that it’s the

little and the big things that we do that keep sexual assault going and perpetuate a rape

culture,” McLay said. “If we all just were decent human beings who had empathy and

respect for one another, sexual assault would be a thing of the past.”

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