Students "Take Back the Night" in march for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

College students and community supporters in Salt Lake City came together for a "Take Back the Night" march on April 5 to express their support for victims of sexual violence as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Westminster College and University of Utah students marched from Utah's President Circle to Westminster's Converse Hall, holding signs and chanting in an effort to reclaim public spaces as safe spaces.

"It is integral we give survivors a space to be validated and hear from their community that we care, we are working to make things better and we will show up for them," said Leah Weisgal, president of Westminster's Students for Choice club. In a post on its website, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center published its thoughts about how to move toward ending sexual violence. The organization highlighted the importance of engaging new voices in the issue—including members of Greek life, coaches, fathers and faith leaders.

Hanna Lukes, a graduate student in the Master of Community Leadership program, said she feels men and other individuals in positions of power especially need to voice their support for survivors of sexual violence. She said she it should be seen as an obligation rather than as an option for people in power to voice their support.

"I think that leaders and men and those in a position of power absolutely need to voice their support," she said. "When you see people that you admire and respect support a movement, you're inclined to support the movement as well. If you're in a position where you've got a voice and you've got the opportunity to speak up, there's an obligation to protect victims of sexual assault by promoting a positive change in the various communities you interact with and impact."

Rigby Butikofer, a student athlete from Utah State University Eastern (USUE), said coaches should take sexual assault seriously and be stricter about educating their athletes.

"Being a part of an athletic team, there seems to be a lot of inappropriate talk that could lead to sexual assault," Butikofer said. "I think that coaches need to take more time in educating the student athletes about sexual assault and the seriousness of it." Last year, the entire USUE basketball team was suspended for allegations of raping a girl in one of the student residential halls.

"Because of the incident that happened with athletes, they have made it a point to teach us about consent," Butikofer said. "At the beginning of the year, they had a huge meeting about consent and what it is."

At the University of Utah, students in Greek life said they have been making their own improvements to their organizations.

Ryan Hughes, a University of Utah sophomore and member of Beta Theta Pi, said his fraternity is working toward ending the association between fraternities and sexual assault.

"As far as my fraternity goes, Beta Theta Pi is involved with the Rape Recovery Center and that's where all of our philanthropy money goes," Hughes said. "The negative stereotype of fraternities is one of the improvements we are trying to turn around. I think girls should feel comfortable around all fraternities. But that being said, that trust is earned, not given. Girls should never have to feel worried or scared at any time around guys, especially when they're drinking."

Weisgal said groups like these are valuable players in the movement against sexual violence.

"This movement needs all the supporters it can get," she said. "The more people at the table the better."

Though members of student organizations across the state said they're working on improving the campus climate for sexual assault survivors, Lukes said she feels there is more work to be done on the part of the institutions themselves.

"When universities started to finally pay attention to sexual assault cases and we mandated this minimal amount of training for college students, it just promotes more unfairness for both the victims and those accused," Lukes said. "When colleges stop saying they are going to do the minimum to cover their tails and starts saying they are going to address the problem because they genuinely care about the safety of their students, we will see a change in campus sexual assault."