Even after more than 20 years, Lili Bernard remembers everything from when Bill Cosby allegedly drugged and raped her when she was guest starring on The Cosby Show in the early 1990s.
“I suffered from night terrors,” said Bernard, citing a passage from the journal she kept when she was hospitalized from November 2014 to January 2015 for suicidal adulation. “Our muscles remember. When we’re in the subconscious stage of sleep, we relive and we feel like we’re there.”
Throughout Occupy McKeldin and Sit Down 2 Stand Up, which lasted for 12 hours Monday, guests speakers such as Bernard, representatives from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and other sexual assault survivors spoke to raise awareness about sexual assault while students took turns sitting in chairs or on the grass on McKeldin Mall to show support for the cause.
While 1,023 people signed up for the event, there were about 2,000 to 3,000 attendees who came by throughout the day, said Kodiak Carb, Sit Down 2 Stand Up director. Sponsors for the event included university departments, offices, sports teams, businesses and 18 Greek life organizations.
Occupy McKeldin and Sit Down 2 Stand Up, which are in their first and second years, respectively, were combined this year because of their similarity, said McLaine Rich, a senior psychology major and president of Preventing Sexual Assault.
Rich, who helped create Occupy McKeldin, was sexually assaulted last year and struggled with a lengthy reporting process. It took her attacker nine months to be expelled from the University of Maryland, even though she was told it would take two months, she said.
The university expelled a record three students for sexual assault between July 2014 and June 30, according to a November Diamondback article.
“There’s a lot of power in the words like ‘sit-in,'” Rich said. “When you have a sit-in, that means you’re doing something to gain rights.”
Many of the speakers used their time to address various misconceptions about sexual assault, as well as lesser-known types of sexual assault, such as assault against men and members of the LGBT community.
Carb, a senior physiology and neurobiology major, disclosed his own experience with sexual assault and the harm that gender stereotypes have for male sexual assault survivors.
On one occasion, “This girl start[ed] grabbing me and groping me and trying to assert herself on me,” Carb said.. “I was obviously not interested but gender stereotype [says] that guys want it whatever that is, whenever that is. … We don’t always.”
Senior communication major Taylor Lokey, a sexual assault survivor herself, also talked about how sexual assault can happen to anyone, including one’s family and friends.
“It is so important that we realize that this happens to so many different people,” said Lokey, who is running for Miss Maryland on a platform of sexual assault awareness.
She emphasized that perpetrators of sexual assault are often people the victim knows and trusts. About four-fifths of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, and 47 percent of rapists are a friend or an acquaintance, according to RAINN.
“People have the misconception that it happens when you’re walking down the street late at night like you see in Law & Order, and that’s not true at all,” she said. “It’s so important that you have to always have your guard up.”
In addition to guest speakers, there was also a variety of informational tents providing information on topics such as the different forms of sexual violence, such as domestic violence and human trafficking. Other tents also offered food and raffles.
“We wanted there to be some sort of relief where you can [say], ‘I just heard four victims in a row tell their story. … I’m going to go to the baked goods area or maybe the raffle and then I’ll take a picture at the photobooth and then I’ll come back and hear another speaker,'” Rich said.
Freshman animal sciences major Mitchell Coburn attended on behalf of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. Although Coburn doesn’t have a personal connection to sexual assault, he said he feels passionate about the cause and is “extremely happy that I can support it on behalf of the fraternity.”
During Bernard’s speech, she urged students at this university to support the fight against sexual assault by pressing the Board of Trustees to rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. While Bernard will never be compensated for her attack because of the statute of limitations in California, she started a Change.org petition four weeks ago that has already garnered almost 16,000 signatures.
“I feel the only thing I have left to do is try to help other people with my testimony,” Bernard said.
Sometimes change can happen just by talking about it, said Maya Weinstein, a George Washington University alumna and sexual assault survivor.
“I still have panic attacks and have spent my nights crying,” Weinstein said. “But I’ve still decided that every time I speak, if one person comes forward to me and discloses, that makes it worth it. And that’s what happens every time.”