About 100 people sat in silence as victims of sexual and domestic abuse shared their stories Thursday night in the University Student Commons. Later some crowd members chanted in protest of abuse as they marched around Monroe Park.
“Take Back the Night” was hosted by Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Education by Students (SAVES), a student organization that works with The VCU Wellness Resource Center.
“Over the last 30 years in the United States, ‘Take Back the Night’ has turned its focus to eliminate sexual violence in all forms,” said SAVES Campus Education Coordinator Stasia Rapp. “Thousands of colleges, universities, women’s centers, rape crisis centers have sponsored events all across the country.”
Rapp and SAVES President Jenny Walters made opening remarks and introduced event speakers: Rebekah Carrow, a volunteer and public education specialist from the Richmond YMCA; Liz Canfield, an instructor for the women’s studies department; and David Shafer, SAVES vice president and Men Against Violence member.
Carrow spoke about the history of the “Take Back the Night” movement. According to the “Take Back the Night” Organization Web site, the first official event was held at The International Tribunal on Crimes against Women on March 4-8, 1976 in Brussels, Belgium. The event attracted two thousand women from 40 countries. Other European counties hosted “Reclaim the Night,” another sexual abuse protest movement. The event continues to gain international interest.
“In West Germany, the protestors demanded the right to move freely in their communities at day or night without harassment and sexual assault,” Carrow said. “These are the legs on which this movement stands. Determined from years of being pulled down, pushed back and shoved aside.”
Canfield addressed ways the movement to end sexual assault is expanding. She said sexual violence affects a large community, but that community is not exclusive to straight or heterosexual people. She said she hopes audience members would join her to dispel the myth that sexual and domestic abuse does not occur within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
“What we know about violence directed at and that happens within the LGBTQ population is based on a number of reports, many tragic, some locally, yet research is slim though it is growing,” Canfield said. “If we are ever to address the issue of violence directed at us and within LGBTQ relationships, we must raise awareness and do more work in these areas.”
Not only is the movement expanding to eliminate sexual violence for all people despite sexual orientation or gender according to event speakers, but advocates are beginning to include persons from an equally broad spectrum. Shafer spoke about the inclusion of men in the movement.
“Men have always been supportive of women’s qualities–just not many men, unfortunately,” Shafer said. “Men working for women’s rights is a strange idea to people.”
Shafer said many men might think women’s rights is an issue to be handled by women but movement advocates are working to combat these generalizations. He said he encourages men to become more proactive by joining organizations like SAVES or Men Against Violence, and even by talking with other people about the issue.
The event speakers were followed by a Survivor Speak Out, in which audience members were able to share their stories. The speak out session preceded a march around Monroe Park. A raffle drawing and musical performance marked the end of the event.
All the proceeds raised from “Take Back the Night” went to The James House, a sexual and domestic abuse prevention and awareness organization in Virginia.
The “Take Back the Night” event at VCU was hosted two weeks before 10 Points of Light, a national event by the “Take Back the Night” organization on April 29. Ten locations will light vigil candles simultaneously at 9 p.m. and unite in support of survivors of sexual violence to illuminate the darkness of abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, according to the Take Back the Night Web site.
“This movement will never die. Not as long as there are people with the courage to stand and say, ‘This must end,’ ” Carrow said.