Take Back the Night returns to MU

The event encouraged survivors to share their experiences.

More than 20 people took the mic, stood in the spotlight on Traditions Plaza and shared their stories. They were stories of violence and of surviving, and many spoke out against a culture and system that didn’t support survivors.

These men and women spoke as part of Take Back the Night, a sexual assault awareness rally that was held on 10 other college campuses across the country on April 30. At MU, More than 200 people showed up to march and support sexual assault survivors.

The event was presented by Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence (or STARS), an organization within the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.

“Spaces like this give survivors a voice that they don’t always have,” STARS member Emily Bartlett said. “When you create a space like this where it’s safe and where it’s encouraged to talk about your experience, that’s a really empowering thing for survivors.”

Returning from a five-year hiatus, Take Back The Night kicked off at 7 p.m. with introductory remarks from two of the organizers, Sarah Billingsly and Kelsey Burns.

“So that means that y’all, along with thousands of people across the country, are marching on your campuses to say we are not OK with rape culture anymore,” Billingsly said.

Take Back The Night is a nonprofit organization and an international movement. Thursday night marked the event’s return to MU. RSVP coordinator Danica Wolf said the event is not new, even though it might feel like it. The last Take Back The Night in Wolf’s first year as coordinator.

The return of the event was a collective effort, said Tim Maness, a graduate assistant at the RSVP Center, who spoke after the conclusion of the march. He said the event was the culmination of six months of work.

“(We are) showing unity across campus,” Maness said. “This is not a women’s problem, a men’s problem. This is everyone’s problem, this is a cultural problem. We have to show unity against this cultural problem, and that’s exactly what we are doing with this march.”

The hour-long march started at Traditions Plaza, went through Greektown along Rollins Road and past the Columns.

“I think this is a great way to (raise awareness),” STARS member Emma Gambaro said. “(We are) walking through campus and through areas that are really well known. We are going to walk by the Columns and all these places. There’s people out right now and people are going to have to listen. There’s so many people yelling and screaming in their faces.”

The crowd grew during the march and at one point, the line of people stretched almost a block at long. Chants of “one in four is one too many” echoed throughout campus. Upon their return to Traditions Plaza, the marchers received a candle in preparation for a vigil, the second part of the event.

Kayla Jackson, a graduate assistant at the RSVP Center, said the vigil was about acknowledging survivors.

“We hold these candles so that we can remember them and know their names and say their names, if they allow us to,” she said. “Just say, ‘Know we’re here, we support you, we love you and we care about you.’ That’s the main point of this vigil.”

Jackson explained that every 107 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She asked for 107 seconds of silence.

The vigil and moment of silence was followed by the “Speak Out,” the final component of Take Back the Night. Survivors were invited to share their experiences during this part.

“Honor this space and honor the opportunity we have tonight to really get a glimpse of what people on our campus, in our lives, in our community and in our hearts are dealing with every single day,” Wolf said.

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