By Yasmine Ghania

Where could you find more than 10 sexual violence survivors in a room? Probably at many places on campus, but definitely at the “Survivors Speak” event.

The CUSA Womxn’s Centre hosted their third “Survivors Speak” event on Nov. 1, where Carleton students told their experiences of sexual violence through poems, songs and monologues.

The sign-up table at the “Survivors Speak” event. Photo: Yasmine Ghania

As a means of respect, The Leveller will not share their names.

The Womxn’s Centre aims to be a safe space for those who identify as womxn. It provides free condoms, pregnancy tests and other resources. All womxn can use this space for breastfeeding, prayer and self-care.

Think about what you can do to make a change

The Womxn’s Centre was previously named the Womyn’s Centre. According to The Charlatan, this was changed to allow transgender women and women of colour to represent themselves in more inclusive spaces.

The event was held on a Thursday evening. About 50 people – four of them men – gathered at Rooster’s Coffeehouse. Conversations were initially light; people were talking about their day, casually complaining, or making weekend plans. But then the event began and everything changed. The room grew somber. Everyone was silent.

The first survivor, a 21-year-old, went to the front of the cafe and began performing a spoken word poem titled “The Girl Who Didn’t Say No.” She said it was about three of her friends.

The first friend was sexually assaulted by a family relative when she was five years old. The second assault happened to her friend when she was in high school. As the performer was about to talk about the third assault, her voice started breaking and she forgot the lines of her poem.

The audience remained attentive and didn’t look away. She then talked about how the third person was raped by one of her friends when she was 20 years old. Her voice grew louder and louder as she she said “when a survivor tells you their story, you shut up and listen.”

That’s when she revealed that all three stories were about her.

It was now time for the second performer. She was a first year student who was sexually assaulted by her uncle. “I’m an infant. I’m a toddler. I’m a six-year-old. I didn’t realize till I’m 18 years old the extent of what happened, what he did and how far he went,” she said. Her poem was titled “Bright.”

Why you might ask? The rest of it was about an experience she had only two weeks before this performance. She said she was at a party and had drank a lot. A man she didn’t know saw her stumbling and held her up by the arm, taking her to a different room in the house.

She said that in that moment, she “wanted to make the night worth it.” She began to take off her clothes.

What do you expect happened next? Well, the man covered his eyes and took her back to her house. He put her to bed, put a glass of water beside her, and held her hand.

Many other performances followed. One was a song by a Foot Patrol volunteer. Foot Patrol is a student operated service on campus. It provides volunteers who are able to walk with students who don’t feel safe walking alone. They can walk as far as an hour off campus. They also provide another service called Walk and Talk, where a volunteer will stay with you on the phone until you safely arrive to your destination.

This particular volunteer said she performed last year, sharing about an experience she had as a child. She said after that performance she committed to performing again at the next event. But since that time, she was sexually assaulted again.

Every performer had a different story – stories that they said will affect them for the rest of their lives. One performer said, “I didn’t come here because I wanted to, I came here because I needed to.”

There were even members of the audience that didn’t initially intend on speaking but ended up telling their stories. Looking all around the room one took a deep breath and said “I was raped by my boyfriend at the time. He didn’t believe that I was a virgin so he wanted to check for himself.”

She said this was her first time publicly speaking about her experience and thanked the audience for listening.

At the end of the event, Harar Hall, the programming coordinator of the Womxn’s Centre told The Leveller about the university’s Sexual Violence Policy, which is currently on review by the Office of the Vice-President. Hall said it’s on review for many things such as its lack of accommodations.

Right now, the policy recommends professors accommodate students who are survivors of sexual violence. But it’s not required. This means that if a professor chooses not to accomodate a student, they might have to write their exam in the same room as their perpetrator.

Hall said students need to be vocal about this policy and express concern in order for the university to actually change it. She continued by saying that a lot of people don’t even know that there’s revisions happening to this policy.

“Think about what you can do to make a change.”

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