A voice to the violence

Mar 102011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Allison Watt was eight when her cousin raped her.

It happened when their family got together to celebrate Christmas Eve.

“He decided to make me an offer,” she said in a recording heard by the 323 participants at the Tuesday through Thursday Walk Along With Me event organized by Associated Students of CSU’s Rams Against Interpersonal Violence department. “(He said) If I followed him upstairs, he would give me
another Christmas present that he had for me.”

The teary-eyed students and Fort Collins residents who went –– some of whom had gone through similar experiences –– were given a pair of headphones and an MP3 player to hear the real-life stories of rape and domestic violence survivors.

Listening to the traumatic incidents, they walked through a maze-like setup in the Cherokee Park Ballroom that led to rooms corresponding with one of three stories.

As participants heard Watt, they found themselves in a mock bedroom, and then a room lined with her poetry on the trauma and photos of where the rapes happened.

Watt was not only a survivor featured in the event; she was also its main organizer as Associated Students of CSU director of RAIV, a department created by President Cooper Anderson and Vice President Jennifer Babos as part of their push to increase the campus’ awareness of interpersonal violence.

Walk Along With Me, Watt said, aimed to have an emotional impact on attendees by educating them not only on its subject’s associated statistics, but also the trauma behind those numbers by having them hear rape and domestic violence survivor stories.

Dylan Gallacher, a senior sociology major who experienced the event, said the issue of interpersonal violence can be intimidating and hard to comprehend. But listening to those who have endured it made the topic truly understandable.

“When you really get inside the issue and see and hear these experiences first hand from people that have been through it and those voices of those survivors, it makes it so much more real in a way than seeing just statistics might not, or learning about the issue generally might not.
It’s very powerful to hear those voices through the headphones,” he said.

“This was extremely powerful,” read one note card pinned to a comment board available to those who went through the event. “This is an amazing exhibit. The first step to prevention is education,” read another.

Similar note cards from survivors of molestation, rape, domestic violence and other forms of assault were also tacked to the board, some saying the event helped their healing process and let them know they are not alone.

According to Kathy Sisneros, director of the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, Walk Along With Me expertly dealt with the sensitive subject matter. The event, she said, gave folks an interactive and accessible presentation of interpersonal violence that also highlighted resources participants can use if they needed them.

“When our students can bring to our campus community issues that aren’t talked about enough, it’s really powerful,” Sisneros said.

Watt met frequently with the center in the event’s planning stages to make sure it carefully presented the sensitive material, and arranged for members of the local Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy group to be at Walk Along With Me as counselors in case one of the event’s participants broke down.

Sisneros cautioned against holding events that improperly address interpersonal violence –– something she said Walk Along With Me avoided with careful planning and execution.

“If (these type of events) are not done very well, they could do more harm than good,” she said.

Watt said it took years to heal from her assault.

But broadcasting her story to 323 people at CSU, while “slightly terrifying,” is a way of taking her voice back. Her cousin was tried and convicted and is legally barred from entering the state of Colorado. She said the impact of sharing her tale of survival makes all the consequential nervousness worth it.

“I hope (participants) will remember it,” she said. “I hope they just understand people a little bit better.”
Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at news@collegian.com._

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