UK students, sexual assault survivors speak out amid Kavanaugh hearings

Senior Emily Cole speaks during a vigil held for assault survivors outside the Gatton Student Center on UK’s campus on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Sydney Momeyer

In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations, a vigil was held at UK to honor sexual assault survivors.

On Friday, survivors and supporters of survivors gathered in the lawn of the Gatton Student Center. The vigil allowed both sexual assault survivors and supporters to speak out, share poems and talk about their experiences.

The vigil was put together by UK senior Emily Cole, who is also a sexual assault survivor. When Cole heard that there has not been any sort of protest, vigil or rally in Central Kentucky on the importance of honoring sexual assault survivors as the Kavanaugh hearings persist, she sought to do something.

“I feel like all survivors have been slowly retraumatized over the course of the last few weeks,” Cole said. “And forced to, essentially, relive the worst times of their life.”

Cole wanted to provide a safe space for those who have survived sexual assault to speak about their experiences, or even just have a chance to listen to those who support them and understand what they are going through.

“I felt like somebody needed to take this on to create a safe space so that assault survivors can maybe find some community and just process,” Cole said.

As a person who is a survivor herself, she said she felt that holding it on a college campus was an important element to raising awareness and giving people a safe place to speak out.

“College-age women are disproportionately affected by sexual assault,” she said. “For women of color that margin would be even larger. Trans women and men are assaulted too, and I feel like no one takes it seriously. College might be the most pervasive and also where it is most ignored, and it seems like the right place to reclaim your spot on campus.”

The vigil began with Cole speaking about her own experience, and the time and effort it took for her to process her assault.

“For such a long time now, I have allowed certain spaces in Lexington and on this campus to feel like a battleground,” she said in her speech. “To feel like a dark place where I could possibly get dragged back and relive what happened to me. But today, we are here to reclaim this space. This space that we all share as members of the UK community because this is our campus and we are valid.”

In attendance were supporters of those who have been sexually assaulted, who wanted those speaking out about their own experience to know they are supported.

“I think the Kavanaugh case is a big motivator for this right now,” said attendee Tori Jackson. “Especially with the #MeToo movement and Kavanaugh, that’s a lot of push to highlight sexual assault, in my opinion.”

Among those speaking was survivor Tyler Trabue, who noted that this was her first time speaking publicly about her assault. Trabue was sexually assaulted in January 2018.

“It happened, and I became educated about the situation,” Trabue said. “I didn’t realize it had happened to me… I just thought that maybe I caused him to want to have sex with me, maybe I did something to make him think that it was okay.”

Trabue wanted to speak out about her experience and shine a light on not only sexual assault in general, but intimate partner violence and sexual assault that can happen within a relationship.

“I think it is important that we are teaching consent,” Trabue said. “Because everyone needs to be on the same page about intimate relationships. Period.”