Candlelight Vigil shows support to survivors of sexual assault


Alex Ruecker

Vigil attendees listen to vigil speaker Ariel Smith. People are showing their support for the speaker.

According to RAINN, 13% percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault at some point while attending college, but only one in five college-aged female survivors receive assistance from a victim services agency.

In order to spread awareness and remember people who have experienced sexual assault, Washburn URGE (Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity) held a candlelight vigil at the north steps of the Memorial Union at 7 p.m. Monday, April 25.

To provide additional information and support for the candlelight vigil, WSGA invited Emily Steimel-Handy, the public education coordinator for YWCA.

Chloe Chaffin, president of the Washburn chapter of URGE, wanted the vigil to serve as a medium for survivors and campus advocates. Campus advocates included Molly Steffes-Herman and Dennis Etzel, who spoke directly to other survivors, letting them know that they are not alone and that there are on-campus resources for them to reach out to.

“Sexual assault is something that affects every single person’s life,” Chaffin said. “Whether you are a survivor or somebody who loves someone who is a survivor, I just wanted to make sure that people know there is hope and help out there.”

One such speaker at the vigil was WSGA Campus and Community Affairs Director Ariel Smith, who reached out to survivors through her speech:

“Washburn does truly value all students on campus,” Smith said. “I wanted people to know that, if nothing else, I am here for them. Washburn, URGE and WSGA are here for you. We are here to support and uplift and help in any way we can.”

Chaffin and Smith both spoke on why it is important to remember people who have experienced sexual assault.

“It’s important to remove the social stigma of sexual assault,” Chaffin said. “Our culture has this toxic idea that the world is tough and that you just need to toughen up, but that just gives into the status quo and assumes that just because it has always been this way means that it always needs to be this way and that’s just not true.”

Just as shifting the social attitudes around sexual assault is important, actively reaching out to survivors to convey information about places for those conversations to occurr is important as well. Smith expanded further on the process of reaching out:

“It can be hard to reach out when you don’t know who to talk to but it’s important to have those conversations,” Smith said. “We want to be the ones proactively reaching out to survivors to let them know that they are not alone. We want people to connect, survivor to survivor, as well as survivor to university resource.”

Chaffin hopes that URGE can continue to spread awareness about sexual assault throughout the year, beyond Sexual Assault Awareness month

“We are working to coordinate future events through programs like Ichabod Speak Out such as a healing poetry circle in the fall with more to be announced,” Chaffin said.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, please consider reaching out to campus advocate Molly Steffes-Herman or visit the YWCA website.

If you would like to report a crime of sexual assault, contact WUPO or the Topeka Police Department.

Edited by: Glorianna Noland, Simran Shrestha