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Cultural organizations come together to eliminate sexual assault stigma

Unmasked set up in The Union during a week of events leading up to Unmasked: Survivors Light Up the World. Photo by Claire Lefton.

More than a dozen cultural organizations from around the world will come together Saturday at Curl Hall to stand up against sexual assault at the first annual Unmasked: Survivors Light Up The World event.

The event will be hosted by Unmasked, a student organization that works to raise awareness around sexual assault and its stigmas in South Asian communities.

“There’s a lot going on here to celebrate the survivors, and that is what the event is for,” said Sindhya Rajan, a fourth-year in psychology and founder and president of Unmasked.

While the event is a celebration of survivors, it is also a learning experience for people to talk about how sexual assault is viewed in different cultures and regions of the world.

“The different cultural organizations are going to have booths set up and we’re going to have a lot of statistics and experiences that are showcased by all theses different cultural orgs,” said Kunal Madan, a second-year in accounting and the group’s events chair. “There’s also going to be poetry, music, cultural exhibitions, performances, and people are also going to be sharing their personal experiences too.”

Another goal of the event is to raise awareness about the extreme stigma and silence around topics of sexual violence in some Eastern communities in an effort to help create change.

“In the South Asian community, because of the culture, and obviously there’s different cultures within South Asia, it’s very broad, but definitely there’s more silence around the topic of sexual assault than there is in Western cultures,” Madan said. “That makes it even more important to be talked about because it’s just not something that people are comfortable talking about.”

Rajan said she has come across several women in India who were silenced by the societal stigma and victim-blaming around such issues.

“They don’t speak up as often because they’re worried about what their families would think, what society would think of their family as a whole, how they’ve been raised, and there’s a very big collectivist mindset that they’re to blame for all of this,” she said.

By addressing the stigma around sexual violence, Rajan said she hopes survivors will soon be able to better access support from their communities.

“That’s what we’re trying to fight and we’re trying to say, ‘Hey, stop these cultural standards that are stopping these survivors and victims from talking about what happened to them,’ because then we’ll be able to help them give them the proper resources that they need,” she said.

Unmasked: Survivors Light Up The World will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Curl Hall. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10. Attendees are encouraged to wear white to match the theme “Light up the world.”

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