Wilmington residents walk to raise rape awareness
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 17:04
A UNCW student stood on the tips of her sneakers to place a bright, multicolored lei on the broad shoulders of a tall black man in a black Fuzzy Peach t-shirt. Moments before, he had crossed the finish line in the Walk to End Violence Against Women and Girls, held in Hugh McRae Park in Wilmington, N.C., not far from UNCW campus.
As the man walked towards his car, parked in the dirt-and-gravel lot across a skinny paved road from Shelter #4, he smiled at no one in particular.
His was the face of many walkers who crossed the finish line Sunday, April 22. Some danced to the beat of music played by MC Big B from radio station Coast 93.7. Those in groups hugged each other, clad in white t-shirts with the cause advertised on the front. Most meandered towards their cars or back to the registration tables set up by the Coast Carolina chapter of UN Women.
This feel-good, educational event had 70 walkers pre-register for the 3K, 5K or fun run, up from about 50 last year. Not all of them came out for the event; the threat of downpour was heavy in the air above the park’s tall pines.
But the walkers that did come and the volunteers that brought the event to life were not in short supply of smiles. Behind the smiles were memories of loss and hurt, in their own lives or in the lives of those they loved. But the mood at the walk was one of victory, not loss.
Victoria Chuong, a senior at UNCW who helped to organize the event, was raised in a family of women. She’s a political science major and a university honors student. With three sisters, her mother and grandmother in her life, Chuong is naturally drawn towards women’s studies. She is hyper-aware of the statistics posted along the walk route, and inserts them into conversation frequently. But those are just numbers. To Chuong, the cause means much more.
“Both my grandparents were immigrants. They had an arranged marriage,” she explains, her voice calm, “My grandmother wasn’t treated well in that marriage."
Chuong wrings the cap of a Dasani water bottle back and forth between her tan fingers. Her dark brown eyes look towards the finish line. “I ask all the time, why does it still happen?”
There isn’t a UN Women chapter at UNCW; the organizers met in each other’s homes and planned over dinner. For Yolanda Norwood, the regional vice president of the Coastal Carolina UN Women chapter, this was her second year bringing people out to the walk.
“This event is held to draw attention to gender-based violence,” Norwood said, before rushing off to help at the registration tables.
Michelle Li, a newscaster from WECT, shared her personal experience with the crowd before the walk. In an event t-shirt, she stood before a microphone and spoke of a violent boyfriend she’d had in high school: how he hit her once and then again in front of her friends, who helped her out of the situation.
“Violence happens to people from all walks of life,” said Li to the walkers and volunteers, “It’s incredibly insane to me that (this will happen to) one out of three of your friends.”
WECT reports on at least one or two cases of violence against women everyday, Li said.
People from all walks of life were at the event, too. Stephanna Tewey, president of the Coastal Carolina UN Association, walked with her husband Tom. Nursing students from UNCW were at the park to give free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings with Dr. Kae Livesey. UNCW graduate and former president of the school’s Amnesty International chapter Melanie Kriksciun was there too.
“Seeing it come together, everyone being out here for the same cause, it’s great,” said Kriksciun, her brown hair straight and loose, green eyes darting from table to table. “There are so many groups that come together to put this on.”
The current president of the school’s AI chapter, Amanda Boomershine, gave out the victory leis with a volunteer from the chapter and a group member from her communication studies class. They asked participants to fill out surveys that will help their research project. Community events like this one often serve as forums for local students to participate in and study.
At UNCW the month of April is dedicated to sexual assault awareness. T-shirts designed by rape and assault victims, meant to empower and educate students, hang on a clothesline strung between the clock tower and Randall Library.
60 percent of UNCW student are female, about 8,000 women. Apply that number to the statistic that one in every six women has been raped, according to RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) and approximately 1,300 current UNCW students will be raped in their lifetime. One in every four college women polled was raped during her first four years of college. For more rape statistics, visit http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims.