Every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Ninety-seven percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Last December, a woman in India was gang raped and passed away 13 days after the assault. This had made international headlines and caused a worldwide stir. On Thursday night, five on-campus organizations came together to hold Project Candlelight, which was built because of this tragedy.
Sachin Bhargava, a first-year professional MBA graduate student, had initiated the idea of having an on-campus vigil for the victim and to raise awareness about sexual assault at the same time. He and his team of four others, which calls itself UB Professional MBA (PMBA), had approached the Indian Student Association (ISA) for collaboration and the ISA was more than willing to get involved and ended up sponsoring the event.
"One of the reasons why ISA really wanted to be a part of this is because we do reach such a large student population and so our main message is ... if we are aware of it, we can prevent things from happening," said Mira Pandya, a senior biological sciences major and president of ISA. "Or if we see something happening we can say something. Basically, we just want to be one step ahead."
Other organizations involved in Project Candlelight included UB Wellness, Gender Institute of UB, UB Men's Group and UB Alliance.
The event started at 7 p.m. and male attendees left colored imprints of their hands on a sheet of paper symbolizing their promise to "not to attack women," according to Bhargava.
Those in attendance also wrote messages on Post-It notes and then took a candlelit walk to Baird Point, where there was a specially prepared bonfire in which they threw their messages
Anna Sotelo-Peryea, violence prevention specialist for Wellness Education Services, said the event was a big boost for people suffering in silence and realizing then there are students who care enough to come out and show their support.
"One in four college women are sexually assaulted and one in six men are sexually assaulted," Sotelo-Peryea said. "We want to make sure students are aware of this piece. We want to create an environment that's safer for each other."
She believes raising awareness on campus can help individuals who have been sexually assaulted to realize they're not alone and there are others who went through what they did. Sotelo-Peryea said she also sees rape as an invisible epidemic that isn't addressed enough.
Eighty-five percent of sexual assaults that occur on campus are by someone the victim knows and it is typically someone that the victim has known for more than a year, according to Sotelo-Peryea.
"Sexual violence affects at least a third of our population," Sotelo-Peryea said. "But nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to think about it. And so this is a crime that often gets ignored."
Eric Schuch, a member of PMBA and a second-year professional MBA graduate student, agrees. He found it difficult to reach out to some people during his attempts at raising awareness of sexual assault. While he had encountered a lot of people who wanted to help, there were others who did not respond positively.
"I was surprised to find out how many groups out there that were motivated and really wanted to help ... on the other side of it, it was kind of disheartening, too," Schuch said. "When we were trying to get information out there and spreading awareness and it wasn't easy. Everybody was so busy with their lives. We had people who really cared and those who had other things to focus on."
Regardless, the organizers remained unfazed and were determined to spread their message throughout the UB community.
The on-campus groups involved in Project Candlelight had a day of extensive marketing on April 5and they held a bake sale while also spreading awareness by giving out pamphlets and booklets.
All proceeds made that day went to EqualityNow, an organization that strives to end violence and discrimination against women and girls worldwide, according to Pandya. Donations were collected on Thursday night during Project Candlelight and are still being accepted by the organizers.
Project Candlelight is the brainchild of Bhargava and he wants to make it a part of UB. He hopes for it to take place every year in April and wants "the light to shine for the years to come."
Pandya is confident this will happen.
"We did all come by as five great groups that really worked together and spread this message to the UB community," Pandya said. "Now that we're all aware, keep spreading the message and don't stay silent because silence itself is almost ignorance at that point."