PLATTSBURGH — Colorfully painted and decorated T-shirts lined Plattsburgh State's Warren Ballroom Friday, sharing the experiences and painful memories of local women and men victimized by rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse.''You can break my arms and legs, but not my spirit," one survivor painted on one of the many shirts clinging to the "Clothesline Project" that served as a physical reminder of abuse during the annual Take Back the Night event on campus."Why was I to blame Mama?" asked another victim through her bold and thickly painted words penned on a dark-green shirt."I told and you went to prison. But you deserve more. You stole my childhood. I'm now 28 and I'm taking it back," wrote another rape survivor.
The powerful words and tales of abuse resonated among students, faculty and community members who turned out for the live performances, speak-out and march through the downtown area to raise awareness and support victims of sexual violence and abuse."It's a great way for victims to tell their story. It makes it real (for those in attendance)," said Kristen Howe, the program coordinator for the Violence Prevention Project on campus who helped to coordinate the event."It's good for people to hear the truth from their peers," said Susan Kelley, director of STOP Domestic Violence, who attended Friday's events and donated the clothesline for student viewing."It helps people feel like survivors and it helps others to hear the truth."After two upbeat dance performances, event coordinators opened the floor to anyone wishing to speak out against sexual violence, sparking an array of emotional student performances, including songs, poetry readings and heart-wrenching personal stories of rape and abuse.Other students showed their support by lighting candles and tearfully embracing fellow students and victims of abuse."It can be a very emotional event for some people," said Howe. "It can be really intense and powerful."
"It's been going on for 27 years at Plattsburgh State," said Stephanie Smith, the president of the campus Center for Women's Concerns organization, which coordinated this year's event by arranging performances and involving several community-service organizations to participate in the increasingly popular night.Event coordinators also arranged for a campus counselor to be available to students during the six-hour program."It's really about raising awareness," Smith said.Cristina Velez, who performed excerpts from the Franca Rame Monologues during the event, said "It brings self-awareness and unity to everyone on campus. It's nice to see so many people who may not usually interact sharing their experiences and relating to one another."