Sonya Renee Taylor Discusses Sexual Assault

Taylor thinks events like Take Back the Night 2017 keep students accountable

"What I would say is that my hope is that my presence on the campus encourages people to step up and do more, and that's my hope on all campuses," said poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor.

She will be reciting poetry and spoken word at the Survivor Speak Out event on Thursday at EF Hutton Park at 7 p.m. Taylor is the founder of The Body is Not An Apology, which is an international movement committed self love and body empowerment.

Annenberg Media's Maggie Suszka talked with Taylor about USC's Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment's current presentation, Take Back the Night 2017.

Why are you speaking at this event and what does it mean to you?

"I'm always really excited to be invited to Take Back the Night events because I think it's so important for us to use our voices to really speak to the issues of safety, bodily autonomy and tapping back into our power in our ability to feel safe in the world in our bodies."

Why do you think this program is crucial to college campuses today?

"I mean right now, we're in a political climate and a social climate, it feels very unsafe for a lot of bodies and certainly that is not different on college campuses where sexual assault statistics are sky high and so often people don't feel safe in their body, where you know I believe Brock Turner like got out of jail last week after serving three months sentence for raping a young women on a campus. Right? So, when we talk about the climate and atmosphere of college campuses, what we're talking about is, how do we make a space that people feel safe in, how do we make a space that feels like it's there for what it's supposed to be there for which is community and education?"

Do you think it's even more important to have these types of conversations in light of the current political state of the country?

"We have the pussy-grabber in chief in office, which does a different level of visibility. So, what I would say is it's not more important, it's a uniquely opportune time to have these conversations because they've become uncloaked—they're no longer sort of invisible and for just survivors to kind of muddle through. There is space where we don't have to be having these sort of hushed back alley conversations about this issue that's been happening. We need to be having out loud conversations because obviously we're living in an administration who is out loud engaged with sexual assault."

Why do you think speaking or opening up to an audience of possible strangers is empowering for victims and survivors?

"So much of the narrative of victims and survivors is that they're alone. This thing happened and there's isolation and there's fear and there's stigma. I think that every time we have the space to tell our stories out loud, to reclaim our power out loud, to feel connected and in community, it decimates that space of isolation that really allows violence to thrive."

Do you think these conversations make an impact in transforming the rape culture, especially on college campuses?

"I think that every time people are allowed to gather unapologetically and tell their truths to spaces that will hold them in humanity, there's an element of taking back our lives in that. The sort of social contract is that people suffer in silence, right? That's part of what upholds systems and structures of violence, that's what upholds rape culture, is the idea that no one will challenge it. It becomes a norm, so every time a Take Back the Night event happens on a campus it disrupts that pattern of normality, of secrecy, of stigma and shaming quiet."

Why do you think these issues are sometimes ignored or forgotten until they are in peoples faces, even by the physical representation of the clothesline?

"Until people are ready to be accountable, we continue to act as if things don't exist. So, I think that Take Back the Night is an opportunity to invite people to a community of accountability, to a community that says these things don't stop happening because we ignore them, they stop happening when we address them, when we teach people differently, when we give different messages to young men about what consent is, and about what patriarchy is and what sexism is and what misogyny is, and when we give different messages to women about what empowerment is and what bodily autonomy is and what coercion looks like. And when we make room for all of those people who don't fit into either of those categories, like what does our constructs around gender do to influence that, what does our beliefs around race and sexuality do to influence that. When we start having all of these conversations out loud and in the open, that's when we'll start to disrupt rape culture."

Reach staff reporter Maggie Suszka here.