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Tannia Esparza, the executive director of Young Women United, speaks with attendees of the Resource Walk and Survivor’s Stand on April 25, 2018.

Tannia Esparza, the executive director of Young Women United, speaks with attendees of the Resource Walk and Survivor’s Stand on April 25, 2018.

Student org hosts sexual assault awareness event

University of New Mexico community members gathered at Cornell Mall Wednesday evening to advocate and raise awareness about sexual violence.

The event, formerly called Take Back the Night, was renamed Survivors Stand. It was hosted by the Student Alliance for Reproductive Justice, a student run group on campus. Survivors Stand was one of the last events at UNM held during April for Sexual Assault Awareness month.

SARJ President Jasmin Valdez said the group wanted to create a way for student voices to be heard. SARJ invited anyone to come up and share their experiences or writings about sexual violence. There were also booths with resources, art therapy, music, food and more.

Many women read their own poetry while dealing with different forms of sexual violence.

Reina Davis was one of these poets. She said, “Writing has been a really good way for me to process things, to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and heal.”

Maria Vielma, a student at UNM, also read a poem, saying she has never been a victim of sexual violence but is constantly afraid she will be.

“I’m scared of becoming a college statistic while walking back from Zimmerman after late night studying,” Vielma read.

More than 15 women stood up and shared their sexual assault stories, and the audience applauded for each one.

According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, 1 in every 6 women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Ninety-four percent of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These discussions need to be had, and we need places where it’s okay to have them,” said Payton Hanna, a member of the band playing at the event.

Pamela Cheek, Ph.D. a professor at UNM and member of Faculty for a Sexual Assault Free Environment, said people cannot learn if they do not feel safe, so she works to try to make sure students feel safe at UNM.

Cheek said she has been sexually assaulted in both small and big ways, but that what impacted her even more was the rape and murder of her sister. She said she works every day to not let the people who harmed her and her sister have power in her life anymore.

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Helen Maestas, deputy director for Constituent Services at Mayor Tim Keller’s office, also spoke at the event. Maestas said since Keller took office, he has been speeding up the processing of the unsolved sexual assault cases and rape kits at the Albuquerque Police Department.

She added that this week, the mayor’s office started the sexual assault information line (1-866-613-SAIL) where people can speak with professional staff and also track the progress of their rape kits.

There were also many organizations from the community that spoke and set up tables at Survivors Stand Wednesday evening. Some of these organizations included Young Women United, Indigenous Women Rising, the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners collaborative and Truman Health Services.

“Students need to know that they have a voice,” SARJ Vice President Isis Lopez said. “There are holistic, intersectional ways to deal with sexual assault. It doesn’t have to come from UNM. There’s so many amazing community partners just down the street to help them.”

Videos of the Survivors Stand event can be accessed on the SARJ Facebook page.

Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.

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