Pacing barefoot on an undecorated stage, Nancy Hulse let the silence overwhelm the Curry Student Center Ballroom as solemn faces contemplated the question she posed.
"Why do men rape?"
Hulse's thick silver rings clanged together slightly as she twitched her fingers at her side, looking out over the crowd.
"Because they can. Period," she answered.
Hulse was the keynote speaker at Delta Phi Epsilon's (DPhiE) fifth annual Take Back the Night event last Wednesday. Take Back the Night is an international program on college campuses intended to bring the fight against sexual assault out from behind closed doors and provide a safe, supportive environment for men, women, children and families affected by sexual assault.
The night began with both male and female students participating in a candlelit march through campus to "take back" the night. Then men, women, faculty, student organization leaders, Greek life students and survivors alike then gathered in the Ballroom.
Wearing a tie-dyed orange skirt and matching top with glittery accents, Hulse performed "A Rose by Any Other Name," which chronicled the different types of sexual assault through poetry, spoken verse, anecdotes and personal experiences she has had in her over 20 years of experience working as a sexual assault and rape counselor. The performance was intense, using a mix of emotional testimonies, graphic artwork and statistics to illustrate the pervasiveness of sexual assault in American culture, which has the highest sexual assault statistics of any industrialized country.
Soft sobs and gasps could be heard in the crowd as Hulse told the stories of women she has counseled and used shocking statistics to dispel misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. One in four women -- as well as one in eight men -- will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. However, of those assaults, it is estimated 85 percent go unreported, and only five percent of rapists actually go to jail.
Hulse also stressed that contrary to some popular belief, victims cannot avoid or prevent their assault.
"Many people think sexual assault victims were asking for it by dressing or acting provocatively," Hulse said. "The oldest victim of sexual assault is 96, and the youngest is two months old. Now you tell me that they were being provocative."
Hulse recently chose to simplify and use the power of spoken word in her shows. She does not attempt to hide anything or avoid any subjects in the piece, which she said can make people uncomfortable, but is necessary for her work to be successful.
I don't believe in secrets. Secrets kill people ... my time here is short and I don't have time to sugarcoat and try not to offend people," Hulse said.
Hulse concluded by saying the most important thing people can do to help victims of sexual assault is to believe them.
After Hulse's performance, Student Government Association President Bill Durkin and InterFraternity Council President Chris McKenny read a pledge to never condone sexual assault by other members of their gender and to always work toward the prevention of sexual assault altogether.
An open mic session followed, where anyone present was encouraged to share stories or information about available support. Although representatives from established organizations publicized their presence on campus and in the community, it was clear individual students were hesitant to take to the stage.
Keri Fagel, however, said it didn't matter. Fagel's year-long position in DPhiE was focused entirely on organizing Take Back the Night, and she said the main goal was simply for students to "know there is someone else out there trying to stop sexual assault."
"I'd rather have five minutes of awkward silence and have everyone think, 'Maybe I should share my story.' It doesn't matter if no one comes and speaks, they know it was there," she said.