The demonstrators stood in a silent row, their mouths covered by strips of tape inscribed with the phrase #MeToo.
Each time the whistle blew, another demonstrator would peel the tape from her lips, indicating she would no longer be silent about the American epidemic of sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, the whistle would sound and another statistic would be read aloud: “25 percent of women and 15 percent of men in college will experience sexual violence. One in six men and one in three women experience sexual assault. Break the silence.”
On Tuesday, Kilgore College students, faculty and staff gathered in front of the Randolph C. Watson library to hold a “Break the Silence” demonstration calling attention to the problem of sexual assault and to encourage open discussion.
“It’s a way to bring awareness to some statistics about sexual assault,” said Tina Rushing, KC Sociology and Social Work instructor and sponsor of the campus Diversity Alliance Group.
“We’re selling raffle tickets and the money will be given to Rahab’s,” Rushing said, referring to Rahab’s Retreat and Ranch, a Kilgore organization serving victims of sex trafficking and women in the sex industry free of charge.
Rushing explained the demonstration would include a group of women who would blow whistles every 98 seconds and read out statistics about sexual assault.
According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. This includes women, men and children.
Caitlyn Jimerson, a KC student studying criminal justice, organized the event.
“My English teacher, Mr. Lafosse, asked us to help bring awareness to a social problem. I thought this issue was an important one that is not being addressed. It’s been important to me for a long time,” Jimerson said. She added she chose to study criminal justice as a way to help support victims of crimes including sexual assault.
As students passed the demonstration, several stopped to purchase raffle tickets, pick up “Break the Silence” stickers and pose for photos with a picture frame reading #BreakTheSilence and #MeToo.
Katelyn Jennings, a KC student studying history, said it was important for sexual assault to be discussed openly
“I feel like sexual assault is almost a taboo subject. Not a lot of people are willing to stand out here and then talk about it, give information about it. I think it’s important to just be here and show everyone, yes, you can come out and talk about it, yes, you don’t have to stay silent,” Jennings said.
“It’s a raging issue,” said Toni Gore, a KC student studying social work. “It’s hard to go anywhere without at least getting catcalled and things like that. Somebody has got to stand up and talk about it.”
The event coincided with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an annual event occurring in October intended to increase awareness of physical and sexual violence in intimate partnerships.
The demonstration also occurred in the midst of the #MeToo movement, a social movement which calls attention to the prevalence of sexual assault by encouraging assault survivors to share their stories. The movement, first created in 2006, rose to prominence last year in the wake of sexual assault allegations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein and dozens of others in the entertainment industry.