Sil Lai Abrams shares sexual assault story, offers support at Take Back the Night rally

Sil Lai Abrams addresses a crowded Walter lecture hall on Thursday evening. Her keynote speech delved into topics of race and sexual violence in popular media and her anti-violence digital advocacy platform, Truth in Reality. Photo courtesy of Evan Chwalek

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a series of articles for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is observed in April. Tristen Phipps, the author of this article and the other articles in the series, shares her account of Ohio University’s Take Back the Night.

Trigger warning: This story contains details of sexual assault and domestic violence.

As a survivor of sexual assault, it is a vital effort of mine to ensure that future assaults are prevented. We must ignite a conversation surrounding the uncomfortable topic of an existing culture in which survivors are discouraged from reporting assaults and persistently blamed if they do. My assault consumed the person I once was and, suddenly, it became my objective simply to return to allowing myself to live without fear. I reported my assault and sought justice for what happened. My perpetrator pleaded guilty and is required to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years. Not all have the opportunity to report their assaults, and that is OK. Much like the keynote speaker, I hope to be a voice for the voiceless and provide hope that happiness and strength do not cease to exist after a sexual assault.

Award-winning writer, activist and survivor Sil Lai Abrams silenced the crowd Thursday as she recounted her multiple sexual assaults and demanded change in our culture.

Abrams acted as the keynote speaker for Ohio University’s Take Back the Night rally, which was held in Porter Hall 103 due to rain and mud. This is the second year that the march has allowed all sexes to participate.

As founder and CEO of Truth in Reality, Abrams focused the conversation on sexual assault, domestic violence, race and depictions of women of color in the media.

“There is something about the experience of being violated, of being assaulted, that strips away all and any barriers,” Abrams said.

She shared an initiative titled “99 Seconds,” produced by Truth in Reality, which challenged media depictions of women of color in television. The title represents the fact that every nine seconds a woman is abused and every 90 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted.

Abrams spoke of learning that she was black and her self-destructive reaction to the news. She then shared the story of her multiple sexual assaults.

“By speaking the truth we take our power back,” asserted Abrams. “I was able to take my voice, and amplify it, and be their worst nightmare.”

Abrams shared her hope to encourage other survivors to share their experiences. She advocated against allowing a repressive culture to force survivors into silence as it has done so often in the past. Abrams empowered survivors to speak up and take their power back.

“I don’t live in a state of sustained rage at the men who abused me, who committed atrocious acts by violating my person, my soul, my spirit,” she said. “I live in sustained rage at a system that exists within our culture that allows this to continue unchallenged.”

Abrams has dedicated her life to finding the root of the problem in the existing culture.

Abrams stated that the culture today is one in which the burden is on the survivors to prove that they didn’t bring their assaults on themselves.

“Whatever your choice or whatever your experience, you may have heard it a million times but you didn’t make it happen,” Abrams said.

After the conclusion of her speech, Abrams opened the floor to other survivors. One man shared his story of his own sexual assault, and was followed by Ohio University student Angel Walters, who thanked Abrams and shared briefly that she, too, is a survivor.

The floor was then opened for a brief Q&A session with Abrams.

The 36th year of the event was concluded with a march led by the People’s Justice League that encircled campus.

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