The message was simple at One SAFE Place’s annual Take Back the Night event Wednesday at Shasta College: Believe a victim, prevent someone else from becoming one.
“One failed response at the very beginning, where someone doesn’t act compassionate, actually could result in five more victims,” Shasta County Deputy District Attorney Sarah Murphy said after explaining how some figures indicate that rapists, on average, commit the crime six times.
Murphy laid out her department’s new “Start by Believing” campaign at the event, which honors victims of sexual assault and celebrates healing with speeches, resources and a symbolic candlelight march through what any other day of the year would represent danger for women — night.
“We only heal when we talk about this stuff,” One SAFE Place’s Emily Westphal said.
About 70 people attended the event, which concluded with the symbolic extinguishing of the candles used in the march.
Mishell Wong, of Redding, said she came because of her past in an abusive relationship.
“I got emotional,” during the speeches, she said.
Since a big part of Wednesday’s message was about not putting blame on victims, Wong said she could relate because of a comment she frequently got: “You stayed with him.”
Victims who spoke during the event also said they were made to feel guilty by some for their assaults, and that leads to a spiral of despair.
“I thought that I wasn’t worthy of living,” said rape and domestic violence survivor Christy Coleman, who said she was raped by two acquaintances after a night out and then entered into an abusive relationship.
That’s another reason why believing and supporting victims in the first place is so important, Murphy said.
“If you start by believing, you shape the healing process,” Murphy said. “Victims are afraid to talk; they’re concerned that they won’t be believed… (compassion) should come from society, and not people who say, ‘Well, what were you wearing that night?’ ‘Why were you drinking?'”
The event also included resource booths and interactive activities, such as a board where participants wrote out their definition of “consent” and an exhibit spelling out “81 percent” in the red cups typically used at college parties to demonstrated that 81 percent of sexual assaults include alcohol.