Sexual assault awareness event held at local park


Story by Katie Hoffman

When she was in third grade, a woman said she was sexually assaulted by two male family members. She didn’t tell anyone until her guidance counselor showed a video depicting an uncle molesting his nephew. Then the woman got the courage to tell her counselor what happened.

“She called the police,” said the woman, who is now a senior at UW-Eau Claire. “My parents were mad that I didn’t tell them first, so I got the blame. I was pulled out of class by police and embarrassed in front of my third grade classroom.”

Speaking during the open mic portion of Take Back the Night, which took place on Monday at Owen Park, the woman stressed the importance of raising awareness about sexual assault. She became emotional while sharing her experience, calling for parents in the audience to take a stand for their children in similar situations.

Annika Leiknes, the victim services director at the Center for Awareness of Sexual Assault, said the community event merged with the campus’ Take Back the Night last year to create an entire Chippewa Valley rally to create awareness about sexual assault.

“The purpose is to … provide a safe space for survivors and their friends, family and loved ones to talk about sexual assault and access resources,” Leiknes said. “It’s really all about the support, because the survivors are part of such a silenced community. No one talks about sexual assault, especially when its people we know.”

Take Back the Night began in Philadelphia in 1975, as a reaction to the death of Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed by a stranger just one block from her home. The purpose of the event has evolved to raise awareness and break the silence surrounding sexual assault by giving survivors a safe environment to share their experiences.

Leiknes said every year organizers host a guest speaker, with this year’s event featuring Lisa Penterman, a survivor of sexual assault currently serving on the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s board of directors. Like the student, Penterman said her perpetrator was acquitted of all charges despite admitting to the assault on a tape recording.

Leiknes said survivors and victims of sexual assault are very much silenced.

“It’s one of the most underreported crimes in the country,” she said.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website, 46 percent of rapes are reported to the police, 12 percent lead to an arrest and 9 percent lead to prosecution. Factoring in unreported rapes, 3 percent of rapists serve jail time.

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, organizations throughout the Eau Claire community banded together with campus organizations to provide that environment. This year’s Take Back the Night featured informational booths from the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, Student Health Services, CASA and the Child Advocacy Center.

With more than 50 people in attendance, Leiknes said she thinks it’s difficult for people to attend, considering the topic, but she’s happy with whoever does.

“We have a really great community, on and off campus,” she said. “We’re lucky to have so many sexual assault service providers and great support in the community, and I think that an event like this shows.”