The rhythmic sound of drums from the Stony Brook marching band echoed through the underpass of the Staller Center for the Arts as a crowd of over 200 students and faculty marched by. Two young women walked in front, holding a sign that read “Take a Stand, Walk with Me.”
Participants of the “Take a Stand, Walk with Me” march on Wednesday, Oct. 26 congregated in the Student Activities Center plaza at 1 p.m. The event started with only a few people but quickly expanded into a much larger crowd.
“It teaches others that you’re not alone,” Xicheng Zhou, a sophomore psychology and sociology double major, said.
The annual event takes place every October for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is organized by the Center for Prevention and Outreach, or CPO, which aims to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Students clutched the hand-made signs that were distributed upon arrival. Others held them up above their heads. Signs reading, “What were you wearing should NEVER be asked!,” “Love is not violent,” and “You are not alone, there is help for you,” were just a few on the front line of the crowd.
Outreach is the key to helping victims of domestic violence get the resources they need, said Christine Szaraz, CPO counselor and event organizer. It’s one thing to hear about it or get an email, but it’s entirely different to go to an event like this, to see how many people care, to meet directly with the people that provide the resources, she continued. It’s not an easy topic to talk about, but Szaraz believes it’s necessary.
“Let’s get it out there, let’s talk about it, even if it’s uncomfortable,” Szaraz said.
The entire crowd walked from the SAC plaza to the Administration building, down near the Staller Steps, up the Zebra Path and circled back into the SAC auditorium, all the while chanting, “Seawolves break the silence. Help us end the violence.”
Some bystanders looked perplexed, some irritated that they had to navigate through such a large crowd to get to their destinations. Others appeared supportive of the message protesters were sending, snapping pictures and deciding to join the walk.
While coming back from class, sophomore mathematics major Andrew Machkasov saw the crowd of marchers and chose to tag along.
“Even though I haven’t been directly affected by any relationship assault, I want to help those who are,” Machkasov said. “Even if my part is small.”
The crowd filed into the Sidney Gelber Auditorium for the after-march information fair, where tables with representatives from Green Dot, Title IX coordinators, and Counseling and Psychological Services were set up with pens, Silly Putty, yo-yos and informational fliers.
The performance group Swallow This! — which works to educate students by dealing with real-world topics such as sexual assault, domestic violence and substance abuse — opened with a remixed version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song with lyrics addressing on-campus harassment. A few individual members performed spoken-word poetry about domestic violence. Each performance was punctuated by the phrase, “Swallow that,” before applause from the crowd.
Szaraz thanked everyone who had planned or participated in the event, saying that this year was the biggest and best yet.
In her own family, there was emotional abuse in the form of unhealthy communication. The unhealthy patterns in her personal life inspired her to be a resource for others. She completed her Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Long Island University in 2008 and became a general counselor at Stony Brook before focusing on domestic abuse.
“I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been affected in their life,” Szaraz said.
One in three women and one in four men are subjected to some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Sexual abuse or assault also affects one in two transgender individuals at some point in their lives. In addition, 61.1 percent of bisexual women, 37.3 percent of bisexual men, 43.8 percent of lesbians and 26 percent of gay men reported experiencing rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the 2010 findings of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
The rate of domestic violence has dropped over time, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report, which shows a 63 percent decline in incidents of nonfatal domestic violence cases from 1994 to 2012, the latest available data. Despite this decline, the call to spread awareness is ever present; 11,766 American women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends between 2001 and 2012.
Self-proclaimed outspoken feminist Michelle Milner, a senior political science major and student assistant at CPO, said that for survivors, she hopes to reduce the stigma surrounding sexual assault.
“My goal is to return autonomy back to survivors,” Milner said.