Trigger warning: sexual assault
On Wednesday, April 10, the First Responder Network (FRN) held their 6th annual Take Back the Night event in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Other St. Mary’s events relating to SAAM include To Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which occurred on April 7, and the Clothesline Project, which was on display in the back stairwell of the Campus Center for about a week.
Take Back the Night first started in 1877 in London when a group of women protested the fear and perpetuation of violence against women in the nighttime streets. The first actual march took place in 1976 in Belgium when a group of women walked along the moonlit streets with lit candles to denounce the continuation of violence against women.
The night’s events began with opening songs by SMCM’s own The Nightingale A Cappella (TNA), an all female student singing group, who performed beautiful arrangements of “Amazing Grace” and “Down to the River to Pray.” Professor of Philosophy Barrett Emerick gave the keynote address, and discussed the current patriarchal ideology of our society and how it negatively affects both men and women.
Unfortunately, one of the speakers, Mia Ramos from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), could not come to give her survivor story, and instead the SMCM survivor speak out was moved up on the night’s agenda. The speak out, which Sexual Assault/Wellness Advocate Meghan Root described as “an opportunity for people to share their stories, speak out about power-based/gendered violence, and support survivors,” started out tentative, with silent pauses after the applause for each speaker died out and furtive glances to see who was willing to share their story next.
The speak out was by far the most emotional part of the night, with several students and even a member of staff speaking out about their personal experiences with sexual, physical, and/or emotional assault. Survivors and audience members alike shared the burden of these stories and showed their support, sympathy, and strength through the tears, applause, and hugs that came after each story. Some survivors brought in a prepared way to tell their story, while others stood up and spoke out from off the top of their head. Either way, the stories were extremely moving and enlightening about the secretive and silenced world of sexual assault.
Following the survivor speak out, the FRN led the candlelit campus walk, which began and ended at DPC, in which attendees of Take Back the Night each took a battery-operated candle and walked around the campus to, according to Meghan Root, “demonstrate solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and to literally take back the night and dark that power-based violence steals and replace it with light.”
Meghan Root then gave the closing remarks and ended the night’s events with a reception in which attendees could eat light snacks, calm down emotionally, and find information about the First Responders, Walden Sierra, and the Clothesline project.
All in all, Take Back the Night was an incredibly moving and powerful night, and will hopefully be a tradition that continues for years to come. Survivors and supporters should feel free to call or text the First Responders at 301-904-2015 or stop by a Feminists United for Sexual Equality (FUSE) meeting if they are interested in receiving/giving support or getting involved with these events.