UB takes back the night

25th-annual event addresses sexual violence

The Spectrum

Katya Palsi was 15 years old when she took 15 shots of alcohol with three of her schoolmates.

She stumbled and fell as she tried to walk across the living room they were in. Instead of being helped up, she found herself pinned down by one of the boys who was there.

Palsi was sexually assaulted that night.

It has been nine years since the incident, and Palsi is now a project manager and documentarian for PACT5, a national movement to stop sexual assaults and rape in colleges. On Thursday night, she attended the 25th annual Take Back The Night, hosted by SBI Health Education. Palsi was invited as a keynote speaker, and the Student Union Theatre was almost entirely filled with students and members of the community for her talk.

College-age individuals are statistically at the highest risk of sexual assault, said Jane Fischer, the director of SBI Health Education, in an email. One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, according to Women Organized Against Rape, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia, Pa.

Thursday night's event started with a performance by UB's female a cappella group The Royal Pitches, which has performed at every Take Back The Night since its inception in 1988. After Palsi's speech, the Korean Folk Art Club (KFAC) led the candle-lit march that started outside of Starbucks, went to Ellicott Complex and came back to the Union. University Police (UPD) escorted the group. Many carried handmade picket signs that read: "Claim our bodies, claim our rights."

Joseph Westlake, a physical therapy graduate student who has been volunteering with SBI Health Education for five years, attended the event. Instead of carrying a picket sign, Westlake wore a customized purple t-shirt to show his support.

"In the office, we're all wearing purple shirts," Westlake said. "Purple is the color chosen by a lot of the victims to kind of show support for Take Back The Night and I have a slogan on mine."

The front of his shirt said, "Go Violet For," and the back said, "No Violence."

Aaron Maracle, an assistant director for SBI Health Education, said any awareness-raising march is a "great way for people who want to be involved in a cause but don't know how."

"You don't have to take on the world to make a difference," Palsi said. "The main message is bystander intervention. It's to recognize you have the opportunity to make a difference."

David Urbanek, a UPD lieutenant,believes awareness among students plays a crucial role in lessening the stigma and increasing the sensitivity toward sexual violence.

"[Students] should never be bystanders but always intervene," Urbanek said. "The average citizen at an average party or average get-together must intervene and notify the authorities before the situation gets worse ... Even if you just tell someone, do it so things don't go the bad way."

Palsi is appreciative of how people are starting to become more aware and willing to speak up against sexual violence. She said it is important for the general masses to move away from the "victim-blaming culture" and embrace the idea of bystander intervention.

"We don't generally have conversations about this [and] maybe that's why ... the perception is off," Fischer said. "In our culture, we aren't talking about this enough. Any public health or safety issue that reaches these kinds of numbers should be discussed and addressed as a society."

Westlake felt that Palsi's talk "added authenticity" to the night because it emphasized the reality of sexual violence. He said it served as a wake-up call to students who may not have viewed sexual and domestic violence as prevalent problems.

Fischer wants SBI Health Education to send the message of intolerance toward violence. Shewants there to be conversations about sexual assault within the UB community.

It took Palsi five years to realize she had been sexually assaulted and to finally speak out about it. Fischer hopes that through Take Back The Night, students feel empowered to "stand up, speak up and speak out" and survivors feel supported.

email: features@ubspectrum.com