University of Oregon’s Student Poetry Slam Addresses Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Words by Alyssa Campbell
Illustration by Kayla Guttierez
Illustration by Kayla Gutierrez
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words are also weapons.
When saying “no” is not enough, how do you cope with the trauma of being violated?
On April 5, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Team at the University of Oregon held round three of their Anti-Sexual Violence Poetry Slam. The first round took place fall 2014, followed by the second round fall 2015.
It started as a release party, a way to get people in the same space to pick up the newest issue of “The Siren Magazine,” a feminist magazine on the UO campus.
Students and guests showed sincere respect and expressions of deep compassion.
It was a safe zone.
“If I lose my voice I lose everything,” said poet and member of UO’s Organization Against Sexual Assault Sofia Mackey. “You cannot protect yourself from isolation.”
This year the slam was geared towards SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month).
“There’s a lot of talking at people and informing them. Getting the word out and not a lot of survivors getting to stand up and say ‘This is my experience and I’m gonna talk about it the way I want to talk about it,’ ” said Sophie Albanis. “This is valuable in that sense, it lets people define themselves and their experiences.”
Albanis is the organizer of the slam event, a member of Associated Students of UO and an advocate for the UO student government.
“This is definitely the biggest turnout we’ve had for this event,” said Albanis. “This is the most overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve gotten. I really feel motivated to do more poetry slams.”
These poetry slams have helped her become comfortable identifying as a survivor.
Albanis` experience is one that she has no memory of. Someone had to tell her about what happened the next day and although she doesn’t remember, she knows it happened.
“A lot of people feel because I didn’t remember it or because I didn’t feel the pain after it happened, I’m not a real survivor,” said Albanis. “This event is what enabled me to say ‘Fuck you, I am a survivor.’ ”
Through poetry, readers shared experiences of rape trauma, repressed anger, new love and generational trauma.
“I was suffering a lot, for me what really helped me figure some things out was writing,” said poet Vienna Soulé. “I didn’t have to keep that inside of me anymore. I could write it out on paper and that’s where it stayed.”
Vice President for the UO student government Claire Johnson works as a member of the Organization Against Sexual Assault.
“I strongly believe too often our society puts these ideas into survivors heads that it’s their fault or they deserve it,” said Johnson. “All of your stories really make a difference.”
It was her first time sharing a piece she wrote since becoming a survivor a month ago.
“Art expression is a super valuable way for people to release feelings and thoughts they may not be able to get out otherwise,” said Johnson. “Expressing myself definitely helps me one way or another.”
Working at past poetry slams and speak-outs inspired her to let her voice be heard.
“I really learned how important it is to have a safe space for people to feel comfortable to express themselves and their experiences,” said Johnson. “Without these safe spaces, it’s hard for someone to heal. I definitely resonate with that.”
The support she’s gotten from her coworkers, friends and other survivors she knows has given her the courage to share her story.
“I looked to them for strength and found courage within myself from the courage they had,” said Johnson.
Emma Sharp and Charlie Landeros, members of UO’s Sexual Wellness Awareness Team switched the mood up with rhythm and poetry.
The crowd responded back with praise as the duo rapped lyrics like “It’s my body and you’re not God motherfucker.”
Concluding the slam a man named Julius Alecsandre shared his story about being sexually assaulted and his family not supporting him.
“I’m very openly gay,” said Alecsandre. “Pertaining to sexual awareness, this is my story.”
The crowd covered their mouths and put their heads down as Alecsandre shared vivid details about his horrific experience.
“Even though I was fighting back his fists felt like bricks to my face. I felt him tearing me open,” said Alecsandre. “I remember waking up in the hospital surrounded by my family. They were embarrassed and angry.”
Dealing with the trauma of being sexually assaulted isn’t something that is easy to overcome, the scars never heal. But there are ways to help, you don’t have to suffer and isolate yourself. You don’t have to live feeling alone. There are people who care and you do matter.
“I want to challenge people to educate themselves on sexual assault. Go to events like this. There’s very real humans behind the stories, get to know them,” said Landeros. “Art is one of the last forms of magic we have in this world, especially poetry, it’s just raw emotion.”
At a Glance:
- According to the Bureau of Justice, “Sexual assault is a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. It also includes verbal threats.”
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has reported that every year there’s an average of 293,000 cases of sexual assault.
- Every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted, 44 percent of victims are under the age of 30.
- Four out of five assaults are from someone known by the victim and 47 percent are a friend or acquaintance.
- Sixty-eight percent of assaults are not reported to police, meaning 98 percent of rapists will never face jail time.