People were crowded around tables in a room at the Social Work Goodwill Building, but the room was still. No one knew what to expect or how to begin the discussion.
A woman’s voice fractured the silence.
“Take out your camera phone and take a picture of something that represents how you’re feeling this very moment.”
The woman at the podium was Tani Ikeda, the keynote speaker of Sex Week.
“Every Sex Week we have a keynote, which is our highlight person for the week,” said Kiman Kaur, President of the Students for Choice group at the University of Utah — the student group that organizes Sex Week.
“This year’s keynote is Tani Ikeda, who cofounded this awesome nonprofit called imMEDIAte justice,” said Kaur. “Ikeda basically runs this program where young girls can come and make films about sex education.”
imMEDIAte Justice is a nonprofit organization that serves as a story sharing platform for girls. Participants design and lead media productions with guidance from professional filmmakers.
“The documentaries are about empowering girls in their sexuality,” Kaur said.
The #SurvivorLoveLetter Workshop — the event brought to the U by imMEDIAte Justice — asked attendees to write love letters to individuals who are survivors of sexual violence. Some students wrote letters to strangers, others to a loved one and some to themselves.
The group’s attention was directed to the brightly colored pieces of paper and markers spread out across each table. It was time to write. The only noise was the sound of markers pressed to paper.
“Is anyone willing to read their letter to the group?” Ikeda asked.
A woman reluctantly shared the love letter she wrote to her younger self after she was sexually assaulted. Her voice shoock and she began to cry as she recounted the experience. The rest of the room followed suit.
One by one, women in the group shared their stories with each other in a space for acceptance, healing and love.
“It’s about empowering those stories…and saying, these voices exist and they shouldn’t be victimized and they shouldn’t blamed or shamed for their experiences,” said Kaur.
After everyone is finished reading their letters, Ikeda instructed the group to form a circle to turn their letters into something more.
The group overlapped their letters in the shape of a heart and included signs with hashtags like #breakthesilence and #survivorloveletters, for photos that were shared across social media.
“Students for Choice a Sex Week every year for the past three years before Valentines Day,” Kaur said.
During Sex Week, Students for Choice held events like #SurvivorLoveLetter Workshop and handed out free contraception throughout the week before Valentine’s Day.
Madeleine Bell, a student in Social Work, said, “It’s great that this stuff is finally getting more attention.”
The group’s objective is to raise student awareness of safe sex, what it is, what it looks like and how to practice consent.