Finding the light: SARVA empowers survivors of sexual assault to share their story

Sarva lights.jpg

Finding the light: SARVA empowers survivors of sexual assault to share their story

On Friday night, the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists (SARVA), an ASUW entity, hosted Take Back the Night, which is an open mic for victims and survivors to share their stories. By breaking the silence, SARVA strives to empower victims and survivors of sexual assault to share their stories on their own terms.

This conversation about supporting victims and survivors is timely, particularly with the recent #metoo campaign on social media where women and men wrote “me too” on their social media feeds, highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. This movement was created 10 years ago by Tarana Burke with the goal of supporting young women of color  who had experienced sexual assault or exploitation.

This movement recently gained traction after Alyssa Milano invited her Twitter followers to reply with the phrase “me too” if they had experienced sexual assault and harassment.

“Given the current political situation and social context of where we are with the #metoo [CQ] campaign, people are speaking their truth,” said Menosh Z.A., the SARVA director. “It is empowering to reclaim your voice, especially now that there’s a sense that people are listening.”


At the event, Audrey Ween, the SARVA assistant director, invited victims and survivors to share their stories at the mic if they felt comfortable. Ween also noted that there was a silent support table in the back for audience members to leave messages for any of the speakers. Additionally, Ween encouraged people to practice self-care and step out if they needed to.

The first speaker started the night with slam poetry-esque piece.

Now I reinvent giving as giving, but not giving up me altogether. I can’t favor someone’s needs for mine if I forfeit my own forever. This violence may always erode me, but this love keeps surviving the weather.

In between moments of silence and hugs for those who shared, other victims and survivors went up to the mic to share their story.

“I hope I can live in a society where people take stories like mine seriously,” one speaker said at the end of their presentation.

Flowers given to every person who spoke at "Take Back the Night"

SARVA wanted this event to be open to every community, and attendee Danielle Lucero, a UW graduate student and the American Indian Student Commission director, noted that having open spaces to share is the first step, particularly when supporting marginalized communities.

“We need support mechanisms that are culturally relevant. For me, healing came from the songs and dances of my people that were prayers for experiencing hardships, and they’ve been used for hundreds of years,” Lucero said. “Take Back the Night is building a community and creates a space where we can be together … and support one another.”

Lucero also noted that in King County, over 90 percent of American Indian and Alaskan Natives have experienced sexual assault within their lifetime.

I wasn’t brave enough to share with the entire space tonight, but I have so much love for everyone who shared and those who didn’t.

Take Back the Night is a way to continue the momentum of the #metoo movement and create space for people to share their stories on their own terms.

“I do believe accountability is very important and that’s where it starts – taking responsibility that there’s a problem, and everyone has a part in it,” Z.A. said. “We’re all complicit, and we can all be part of the solution if we wish to be.”

In addition to the dedicated space for listening and sharing, SARVA had a table of resources available across campus. Z.A. wanted students to have the opportunity to get the support they needed, which is why they had pamphlets from a variety of UW resources like the UW Health & Wellness, Counseling Center, and API Chaya.

Resources for victims and survivors of sexual assault

“One of our goals was to make SARVA more visible to the community and student body because we serve as a resource for students who want to get in touch with mental health services, UWPD, or advocacy services,” Z.A. said.

SARVA will hold Take Back the Night every quarter in addition to other events about being an ally and supporting people, particular those in marginalized communities. Ultimately, Take Back the Night’s conversation continues beyond Friday night because everyone has stakes in the conversation about sexual assault and relationship violence. At the very least, Take Back the Night is a reminder that it’s important to listen.

“When somebody comes to you and tells their story, your response should be, ‘I believe you,’”
— Menosh Z.A., SARVA Director


Student Resources:

  • Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists (SARVA): An entity of the Associated Students of the University of Washington, SARVA is a group of student volunteers who are committed to ending sexual assault and relationship violence through activism and education. They do this through programs and events across campus that encourage dialogues about these issues that are open to all members of the UW community.
  • The Counseling Center: The Counseling Center offers culturally responsive short-term individual counseling and group counseling ranging from interpersonal therapy groups on different topics such as diversity and belonging, communication in interpersonal relationships, or healing after losing a loved one.
  • Peer Health Educators (PHEs): The PHEs are the student arm of the Office of Health & Wellness  who work together to educate the UW community on health with an emphasis on social justice and collaboration. The PHEs facilitate workshops on mental health, participate in panels on health and wellness, and create collaborative events across campus communities with the goal of starting dialogues about health issues.
  • SafeCampus: SafeCampus is a 24/7 central reporting office to contact if you’re concerned about your safety or the safety of a friend. Trained specialists will take your call, connect you to resources, and implement safety measures to reduce the chance of violence occurring.