Annual event sheds light on sexual assault

Hannah Grover
Participants in the 2012 Take Back the Night rally observe a moment of silence outside the Farmington Civic Center.

FARMINGTON – With graduation approaching, an event put together by Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico will focus on sexual assault on college campuses.

In previous years, the annual Take Back the Night event was an awareness walk on West Main Street, ending with a candlelight vigil in Orchard Park.

This year's event takes a different approach. Eleana Butler, the executive director of Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, said several volunteers asked if they could show the documentary "The Hunting Ground" during the event.

That led to a change for Take Back the Night, though the event will still feature the candlelight vigil. The Farmington Civic Center donated its facilities to Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico for the screening of the documentary.

"The Hunting Ground" explores the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. With high school graduations around the corner, Butler said organizers thought this was an appropriate time to show the documentary.

Butler said Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico receives reports of a few cases of sexual assault at San Juan College each year, and the local campus does not have large problems with sexual assault because it is not a residential campus. While the college does not face the challenges of residential campuses, a representative from the college will be on a discussion panel at Take Back the Night.

"It's still really important for (San Juan College students) to understand," Butler said.

She said many of the students will later transfer to residential campuses where sexual assault could be more of a problem.

Madison Steiner, the guest speaker at the event, said parents are often excited about sending children to college and need to be aware of the dangers students can face on campus.

"There's things they need to be aware of," she said, adding that parents should speak to their college-bound children about sexual assault on campus.

Steiner was asked to share her story during the event. She said she was sexually assaulted while in high school, but for various reasons, she chose not to press charges. It took years before she was able to talk about the assault, which has shaped her life.

Afterward, she turned to art and has since founded a nonprofit that paints canvas shoes for children with cancer.

"Kindness was a big, big part of my journey of survival," she said.

Steiner encourages other survivors to find an outlet like art that they are passionate about. But she also has a message for the community.

"This is an issue," she said. "This is something that's kind of pushed under the rug ... It needs to be talked about."

She said people who know victims of sexual abuse should embrace them, help them, support them and encourage them because "it can happen to anyone at any point."

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

If you go

What: Take Back the Night

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

More info: 505-325-2805