As Cynthia Zamot turned into the main entrance of Georgia Regents University, she saw hundreds of T-shirts lining both sides of Walker Street.
Each shirt had a message, many of which left the 49-year-old sexual assault victim feeling “overwhelmed with emotion.”
“It was like I wrote them,” she said. “It’s incredible to know that people feel the same pain I felt – and still feel – after all these years.”
Zamot was among victims in attendance Thursday for the 18th annual Take Back the Night Rally. The area resident says she was assaulted throughout her childhood, starting at 4 and ending around 17.
“This is my first time attending Take Back the Night, but it’s already made an impact on me,” she said. “It’s so important to encourage people to speak out because that wasn’t an option for me growing up in the (1970s) and ’80s. Back then, children were supposed to be seen, not heard.”
According to Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United Sates have been raped.
Nearly 80 percent of female victims experienced their first rape by the age of 25, while one-quarter of male victims experienced their first rape at 10 or younger. The Justice Department estimates that fewer than 5 percent of attempted rapes of college women are reported to law enforcement officials.
“Sexual assault is an act of violence that is intended to control or humiliate,” says Anne Ealick Henry, the director of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services.
“As the most under-reported of all crimes, it is more widespread than most people recognize. Rape and sexual violence are often labeled crimes of silence because of low reporting rates and social discomfort with their public discussion.”
The Take Back the Night Rally started in Augusta in 1996 on the campus of Augusta State University. Nearly two decades later, the event’s attendance has grown.
“It’s amazing to see how much this event has grown over the years,” area crisis specialist Charlotte Murton said. “I started coming in 1998 when it was only for Augusta State students. Now we’ve collaborated to have students from Paine College, MCG, GRU and East Georgia. In terms of student involvement, this rally has come such a long way.”
Henry added: “Take Back the Night offers an opportunity for the community to state it will not tolerate these crimes or let them go silently into the night. The partnerships and collaborations with area universities are vital to the presentation of this event, as sexual assault is a common occurrence on college campuses.”
GRU President Ricardo Aziz addressed the audience at Thursday’s rally.
“This event means a tremendous amount,” Aziz said. “Being a women’s health specialist, I understand the importance of making sexual abuse crimes a priority. It’s important to recognize how often these crimes go unreported, and we have to do our best to make victims feel comfortable and willing to come forward.”
“The whole idea behind this night is to get people to feel comfortable speaking out,” Columbia County investigator Brian Jones said. “In today’s culture, especially in the music industry, it often seems acceptable to treat women as objects. That’s simply not OK. As a culture, we need to get away from that type of thinking and this rally does a great job of getting that message across.”