Brittany Catalano stood on the stage with dim lights around her. As the audience listened attentively, she recounted the last time she had a gun pointed in her face.
“I was terrified to ask for help,” said Brittany Catalano, an occupational therapy master’s student. “But it’s what saved me.”
Catalano is an abuse survivor who bravely shared her story at Take Back the Night, an annual event that promotes sexual assault awareness, prevention and safety, and ends the silence that often isolates survivors.
According to the Reproductive Health Response in Crises Consortium, at least one of every three women worldwide has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime by a partner, relative, friend or stranger, employer and/or colleague. Of these crimes, only 50 percent are reported to police.
Take Back the Night focuses on survivors taking back their voice by speaking out against abuse and sexual violence. Freshman chemistry and psychology major Farah Mahmoud also found the courage to share her personal story of sexual assault and drew parallels to Catalano’s experience with healing from the pain.
“I’m neither a victim or a survivor,” Mahmoud said. “I cannot be one without the other.”
Both ladies talked about the feelings of isolation from friends and family and the help that counseling and opening up provided to allow them to move on with their lives.
“Too often, survivors of abuse don’t talk about their experiences,” said Bronwen Bares Pelaez, Women’s Center associate director. “Take Back the Night is a reminder to all survivors that you’re not in this alone – help and support are available to you. I commend Brittney and Farah for sharing their stories publicly and hope they encourage others, who may be suffering in silence, to seek support.”
Mahmoud notes each day is an opportunity to heal and recover from the trauma her attackers caused. “I’m a survivor who lives everyday, no longer looking over my shoulder at my past,” she said.
Catalano is now working on promoting a “Survivors Handbook,” guiding other women on how to reclaim their independence following an abusive relationship. She has been working with FIU’s Victim Empowerment Program to see how the two can partner.
Take Back the Night also hosted several Miami-area and on-campus resources that support survivors, including Victim Empowerment Program, The Lodge, Panther Aikido, NOW, FIU Police, VOX, Women’s Center, Student Health Services, Multicultural Programs and Services, IFC, LBGTQA Initiatives. In addition, student artist PaoPao displayed Broken Free, a documentary style photography project in which survivors of domestic violence, abuse and assault translate message of person experience into visual art.
See photos from Take Back the Night below: