TAMPA — A chime rang out every two minutes, a steady reminder of how often women are raped in the United States.
The chimes continued as speakers took to a microphone to encourage the crowd of women and men to take a stand against sexual violence and abuse at Take Back the Night at the University of South Florida on Thursday night.
Elizabeth Moschella, a senior, recalled the first time she showed up for the annual candlelight vigil and speak-out against violence four years ago. She hadn't planned on it, but she ended up sharing her own story that night.
How she was raped at a party three days before her freshman year began. How she took a cup of what she thought was just water from a guy she met earlier. How she started feeling dizzy from the drug she later realized had been put in the cup.
Moschella, now 22, grappled with guilt and shame then. Close friends blamed her. They asked her what she'd been wearing, and why she'd taken the cup in the first place.
Today, she is president of the group that sponsored Thursday's event, N.I.T.E. — Network. Improve. Transform. Empower.
"Ever since then, the more I've become involved in the organization and the realm of sexual violence and violence in general, with sharing my story I can help somebody else know they aren't alone," Moschella said before the event Thursday.
She shared her story again about two years ago, this time with a video on YouTube, to take her message of support and empowerment to a wider audience.
Moschella thinks people blame victims because it makes them feel like it can't happen to them. They can't be a victim if they're careful enough or smart enough.
"No one wants to think that way. Instead they blame, because it feels better to know it can't happen to you," she said.
That was part of Thursday's message, that victims don't need blame, they need support. And hope.
Cheryl Ricciardi, Florida statewide crisis response coordinator for the Attorney General's Office and the night's keynote speaker, talked about her work in crisis counseling.
"I have seen some of the most unimaginable, unthinkable, horrific things people do to other people," she said. But hope is the common thread in all the work she's done, she said. It's the essential piece for victims and their supporters.
"It's always hope that is present, that keeps us moving," Ricciardi said, as another chime sounded. "Hope keeps us on target, hope leads the way."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]
KENT NISHIMURA | Times
Alyssa Dugent, 21, hugs her boyfriend Ethan Mckenzie, 22, after a Take Back the Night rally against sexual violence and abuse hosted by the student organization N.I.T.E. — Network. Improve. Transform. Empower — on Thursday at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Alyssa shared her personal experiences during the program. Story, 3B.