On Wednesday, April 6, the “Take Back the Night” event of Sexual Assault Awareness Month commenced on the Townhouse Greens lawn. Take Back the Night, a multi-national event that aims to empower rape victims and women in general, was once again held at St. Mary’s College and co-sponsored by Programs Board, Walden Sierra, and the College’s First Responder Network. The event aims to reduce the social stigma associated with rape and produce awareness to help change the status quo.
The main goal of Take Back the Night is to speak out against sexual violence and domestic abuse through methods such as protest and direct action. This year’s event took these issues to heart and not only made it clear that rape, abuse, and refusing to acknowledge such crimes happen is foolish and morally reprehensible, but also that there is a community which is open and wants to provide care to survivors in the wake of trauma.
A representative from co-sponsor Walden Sierra, Laura Webb, spoke briefly about the services they offer to victims of sexual assault and violence.
The organization, which is largely operated by volunteers and aims to provide free assistance to those in need, has a 24-hour hotline in addition to ongoing treatment such as consultation and therapy. Walden Sierra, whose ultimate goal is to promote behavioral health and wellness, also treats individuals with substance abuse and is open to men in addition to women; in fact, one of the major points of Take Back the Night this year was to make it known that men are just as affected by these crimes as women are.
The organization also looks for volunteers to share their stories via audio or video in an effort to reach out to a wider demographic.
The featured speaker this year was Liz Seccuro, an advocate for victim’s rights and writer of the memoir Crash Into Me: A Survivor’s Search for Justice. Securro had been a victim of sexual assault while she attended the University of Virginia in 1984 and her case was avoided by school officials until, almost twenty years later, she was contacted by the rapist and decided to press charges.
Seccuro, however, opted to keep her story to a minimal. “Tonight is more about you and not me,” she said to the audience attending the event.
Securro spent the majority of the evening discussing the horrors of trauma, the steps that can be taken to prevent it, and the harsh reality of American culture’s conceptualization of rape. However, she also was adamant that there are people out there to aid victims, make them feel safe again, and assist them in rebuilding their lives.
“It’s a work in progress,” she continued, noting that even after all this time, a little over 25 years, she still has to take each day one at a time. “But I am not a victim. You are not a victim. We are survivors.”
Seccuro touched on some of the things that are important regarding events like Take Back the Night, relaying that even though the people who attended this year care, there are bigger issues at hand regarding activism on this “hush hush” topic. “When we talk about activism…it’s about the types of people who don’t go to these events and they need to have this spark lit.” She said this specifically about another incident at UVA in 2010 where student George Huguely assaulted classmate Yeardley Love. “Had people recognized the warning signs, it may have never happened.”
She also spoke directly to survivors in the audience, telling them to take “rape kits” and to seek justice, to “take back the right to be individuals,” and “the right to be humans.” Seccuro also mentioned that the accusation of rape is not one to be taken lightly, and people need to recognize this. According to Seccuro very few rape accusations are false, as they are sometimes assumed to be, despite the overwhelming amount seen annually.
She also presented some very astonishing statistics, citing that one in four women have been sexually abused and one in six males have been abused as well.
Regardless of these figures, it is still commonplace to see criticisms hurled at the victims of these crimes, many of whom come from quite surprising backgrounds. “Jesus does not support hate mail,” Seccuro joked, shedding light on the amount of nasty comments she gets from Evangelical Christians.
At the close of Liz Seccuro’s speech, students and faculty were given the opportunity to share their experiences with those who attended the event. As per tradition, the event came to a close after a candlelit march through campus grounds. The vigil is supposed to stand for the refusal to support acts of sexual violence and domestic abuse; it was an exercise of solidarity.