Next to a garden of colorful aluminum pinwheels, hundreds of T-shirts with bold messages covered a web of clotheslines - giving a voice to silent victims.
Each of the 2,265 pinwheels poking from the Augusta State University lawn represents a child in Georgia who was sexually assaulted in 1999. The shirts are covered with the well wishes and prayers of local victims and their loved ones, said Anne Ealick Henry, one of the coordinators of the fifth annual Take Back the Night rally held Thursday night on the Augusta State campus.
Take Back the Night, which began in the 1970s, is a night set aside for local communities to offer support to women, children and men who have been victims of sexual assault. Coordinators said they expected about 150 to 200 people to attend the event.
"I think that it is an important event for women in the community to attend. I don't think that enough people know about their options," said Meredith Laney, 24, an Augusta resident. "Maybe they know and they are just afraid. But this promotes a sisterhood for the survivors."
Ms. Henry said it's important for people to understand that sexual assault is not just a female issue and that male support is a necessary part of the problem's solution.
"I think that it's a wonderful opportunity for men to become more aware of the frequency of this problem in our community," said Ms. Henry, who is the director of the Richmond County Rape Crisis Center.
In 2000, 334 sexual assault cases were handled through the local crisis center. Among those, 234 were children under age 18. Since October, there have been 168 cases.
The white cotton T-shirts that lined Wrightsboro Road sent poignant messages to passersby. Four long-stemmed red roses and the words, "A rose is still a rose," were sketched on one shirt. "Secret touching is not right for little kids. And it's all right to tell," was another shirt's message - designed by a 12-year-old.
"It raises awareness," said Sian Mile, the director of the Women's Studies Department at Augusta State. "This is also a celebration of the triumphs of the survivors."
Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.