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Students Together Against Acquaintance Rape and members of the Penn community spoke out against sexual violence Wednesday night on College Green. See page 7. [Ben Rosenau/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Victims of sexual violence and their supporters were encouraged to do the most powerful thing they could Wednesday night at a vigil on College Green -- speak out about ongoing injustices.

Students Together Against Acquaintance Rape sponsored the vigil, entitled "Strength in Our Voices," to provide sexual assault survivors an open forum to talk about the issues survivors, and all people, face.

"We have a belief that dialogue is better than silence," said keynote speaker Kurt Conklin, a former STAAR advisor.

Wharton sophomore Sara Rabold said that communicating openly is essential to combating the situation.

"I believe this is a horrible problem, but the best way to try and erase it is to dispel ignorance," she said, speaking to the several dozen people gathered on College Green.

Conklin tracked the progress that has been made at the University over the past decade to create a safer sexual environment, noting that only about 10 years ago fraternity brothers held up numbered signs as women walked by, and certain men were freely called "faggots."

"Students were expected not to challenge these things because they might be labeled a troublemaker, or even worse, a feminist," he said.

A cappella group Counterparts opened the vigil, and Off the Beat closed, but the central focus of the event was the open forum for victims of sexual violence.

Crowd members were initially hesitant to step up to the podium, but one by one, people shared their stories with others, trying to impart lessons on the group that can unfortunately only be learned through experience.

"I just want to make sure that people know that unwanted sex isn't a good thing and it's really, really hurtful and very damaging, and some people never recover," said one speaker, whose sister was raped and who was almost raped herself. "That's a very scary thing."

Another woman went through the usual list of questions she gets asked about her past relationship with an abusive former boyfriend.

"The first response I get from people is 'Why didn't you leave?' And my answer is, 'I did leave... so don't ask me that,'" she said. She also noted how some people are so sure of how they would respond in a similar situation, but that they can never really know.

And yet another woman, who was raped at the end of her first year at Penn, agreed.

"I feel like it was easiest for me to say that this could never happen to me," she said. "And that might be the reason why I got caught in the situation I got caught in. Finding myself in that situation I learned anyone can be in that situation."

"Things don't always happen the way that you learn when you're in middle school or you're in high school and they're sitting everybody down teaching everybody about rape," she added.

And despite society's recent focus on the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Conklin noted that they are just an expansion of all violence.

"If the larger goal here is a safer world and a world with less hostility and more compassion and more nonviolence, then you need not wait for a global tragedy to motivate your response," he said.

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