Students gathered in front of the Ohio Union on Tuesday night to hear speakers, paint and attend a vigil for survivors of sexual assault around the world as the second event of Unmasked Sexual Assault Awareness week, a series of events culminating in a gala Saturday.
The week is organized by Ohio State’s Multicultural Center, the Counseling and Consultation Service Social Justice and Inclusion Committee, and Unmasked, a student organization dedicated to bringing awareness to sexual assault in South Asian communities.
The vigil began with chatting and painting in the West Plaza outside the Union, then progressed into a few speakers from CCS and ended with lighting electronic candles for the victims and survivors worldwide.
Every 98 seconds a woman experiences sexual assault in the U.S, and 11.2 percent of graduate and undergraduate students of all genders experience the same.
“Having this kind of resource on campus was always really important to me. I was just never really brave enough to start it, and Sindhya [Rajan, founder and president of Unmasked at the Ohio State University] was,” said Lalitha Pamidigantam, a second-year in public affairs and member of Unmasked. “I experienced sexual assault when I was just 14 years old, and ever since then I’ve always believed in some sort of preventative care. I think that once someone is assaulted you should be there by any means possible, and in our community it can be so difficult to get the resources that we need because it’s so stigmatized.”
The vigil was for survivors around the world, but those on campus were touched, as well.
“Being a victim of sexual assault from different events in my past and my childhood, it’s important to show this representation in modern times,” said James Capoccia, a first-year in nursing. “The way that people are doing it, it’s making it less shameful to be the victim and giving more support to them… It allows people to have a safe space, that being OSU, to know that they have support and can actually speak out against it.”
Many at the event also were concerned with the recent closing of Ohio State’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment office. In March, services to students were stopped as part of a review into the office, the reasons for which have not yet been released. However, support for survivors continued to be at the forefront of the discussion.
“I think it’s a really important topic, to discuss sexual assault awareness and sexual violence on awareness and what happens on campuses,” said Vanessa Vargas, a senior staff therapist at CCS. “There’s a huge stigma around that, which makes it often difficult for women and men and other groups to come forward and talk about what their experience has been. This is an effort to bring some attention to that, and to show that there’s support.”