‘I am stronger:’ Speak Out event features survivor testimonies

Safe Office hosts its annual Speak Out event ahead of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month


Evan Harris

Notes from attendees to survivors of sexual violence express support.

Maddie Stopyra, News Editor

Wait Chapel’s vast auditorium was silent as roughly 40 people listened to two stories of survival at the Safe Office Crew’s 29th annual Speak Out event on March 29. 

“It wasn’t until months later that I told my sister, and she’s the only person who knows my experience to this day,” one testimonial read. 

The Speak Out is an annual event hosted by Safe Office Crew — formerly titled PREPARE — where students gather to honor sexual assault survivors and give them a space to anonymously share their stories. Alongside survivor testimonials, this year’s event featured a poetry reading by junior Austin Torrain, musical performances by two Wake Forest acapella groups — Demon Divas and Melodeacs — and a vocal performance by senior Sireen Badr. 

“Those couple seconds after the testimonials were heartbreaking,” sophomore Maria Long said. “It made me realize how [sexual violence] could happen to anyone in that room.” 

These testimonials are only two examples of the numerous experiences students have had with sexual violence during their time at Wake Forest — 55.4% of students who responded to the Campus Climate Survey during the 2022 spring semester reported an incident of sexual misconduct. 

During her opening remarks, Safe Office Crew president Katherine Knightly expressed that Speak Out aims to be a space for healing. 

“Today, individuals are choosing to stand up and come forward with their stories or show support for those who have spoken,” Knightly said. “I think it is important to remember that the decision to talk about sexual assault can be healing, and some survivors find this to be an integral part of their healing process.”

Knightly continued: “For some, it is a way to regain power after an event that left them feeling powerless. For others, speaking out publicly is a chance for empowerment not just for themselves, but to educate others about the impacts of sexual violence.”

Members of the Safe Office Crew (SOC) read testimonials from survivors of sexual violence. (Evan Harris)

Between performances, audio recordings of anonymous student testimonials were presented — each of which was delivered by a member of the Safe Office Crew. Leading up to the event, students could anonymously submit their experiences with sexual violence via a QR code that was distributed around campus through flyers and Safe Office emails. 

The two testimonials described the survivors’ journeys toward healing.

“I am stronger and have rebuilt myself up,” one testimonial read, expressing that the Safe Office was a critical resource in the healing process. 

Freshman Audrey Blandford came away from the event encouraged that the university offers resources and support systems for students who have experienced sexual violence. 

“I didn’t realize that the Safe Office was such a strong support system for the community,” Blandford said. “And it really relieves me that I’m at a school where [they] have that.” 

After Melodeac’s performance of “Story of My Life,” junior Austin Torain recited his poem “Consent & Relationships” — a piece that discusses violence in intimate relationships and the importance of ongoing consent.

“‘I love you’ is not a yes,” Torain said during the performance. “It is not ongoing consent because I have used those three words in the past.” 

Additional performances included Demon Divas’ “Blackbird” and Sireen Badr’s “Girl on Fire.” Knightly concluded this year’s Speak Out by thanking attendees for supporting sexual violence survivors and urging the audience to continue to show their support during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As attendees exited Wait Chapel, they were given the opportunity to write encouraging notes on colorful scraps of paper and place them on the chapel’s columns. 

These notes were accompanied by a public artwork titled “Under My Skin: One God, Many Faiths” — a paper manipulation and mixed media piece created by Emilio Aponesierra Paretti. In an artist’s statement displayed next to the artwork, Paretti explained that the piece was meant to be a safe space at Wake Forest for those of many faith backgrounds “to pray, love and be a light of light for people with a positive diagnosis of HIV and AIDS.” 

Like the artist, Knightly hopes that this year’s Speak Out united individuals and created a sense of community.

“I think it’s a great way for people to come together,” Knightly said. “Even in small ways, you see people reaching out to groups maybe they haven’t had a chance to correspond with before coming together in one space for a common goal and a common way to support others.”