Hundreds of students rallied together in the Commons Main Street last Thursday for Take Back the Night, an annual campaign that supports survivors of sexual assault.
This past April 12 marks the sixth consecutive year that the Women’s Center has hosted Take Back the Night on campus. Take Back the Night originated in the 1970s as a protest to sexual, relationship and domestic violence against women. Now nearly five decades later, it has reached 30 countries and thousands of schools worldwide, and continues to champion for “the right [of women] to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault.”
Since early April, the hashtag #umbcTBTN has taken over the Women’s Center Twitter page in an effort to create a dialogue on the event, reminding survivors that TBTN is a platform for them to “stand in their power to speak out about their experiences with sexual assault.“
The two-and-a-half hour long event debuted at the heart of the Commons Main Street around 6 p.m. to a roaring audience. Allies, survivors, and staff members with TBTN t-shirts and rally signs sat patiently, while others hastily gathered into their seats amidst the noise and bustle of the very public entryway.
However, the night opened with a monologue that perfectly summarized the necessity for the slightly chaotic debut of the event.
“We know this is not the ideal location when it comes to space and noise, but we need to be here,” said a student organizer. “We need to be seen. We need our voices heard.”
From there, survivors came forward to share their stories at the mic. One by one, students of all races, genders and sexual orientations faced the crowd with stories ranging from sexual harassment to rape to child molestation. Some held back tears, while others braced hands with a loved one to stay strong as they opened up, often for the first time, about their painful journeys to a crowd of strangers.
“He didn’t leave when I told him to, and my feelings of disgust and anger and hurt and shame won’t leave either,” one female survivor said tearfully.
“I was taken advantage of. I didn’t scream, or do those sorts of things … but my first kiss was taken away from me. My virginity was taken away from me,” said an LGBT survivor, adding, “It took me a long time to realize it, but I was a victim. My wound had healed but my scar had still remained.”
After another hour of this, students and survivors broke into applause for those who came forward before dispersing into lines for the official march.
The march started on the steps of the Commons, continuing towards the True Grits dining hall before winding its way down the academic buildings and towards the True Grit statue near the RAC.
Many held rally signs and posters while shouting chants to make their voices heard along the streets of UMBC.
“One, two, three, four, we won’t take it anymore!”
“Five, six, seven, eight, no more violence, no more hate!”
Marchers eventually circled to create a Survivor’s Circle, where survivors embraced one another in calming silence as a breather from the emotions that picked up during the night.
In the end, the marchers finally returned to the Commons Main Street to simmer down for the Craftivism activity, where students and volunteers created scraps, Dear Survivor letters, and t-shirts to reflect and release their emotions to end the night.
The event received positive praise from several UMBC students, and many are hopeful that its platform could not only be used to tell their stories, but also to work together to forever change how Americans and UMBC itself responds to rape.
According to the Take Back the Night Foundation, 1 out of 6 American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
UMBC’s 2016 campus climate survey revealed that nearly 1 in 5 Retrievers face sexual assault, and of those, 73 percent experience it on campus and 37 percent within their first year. This is a grim reminder that UMBC is no exception to the statistics, and also has the potential to do more in the mission to change the climate on sexual assault.
Members of the We Believe You club, a new student organization on campus that supports survivors of sexual assault, are aiming to make that change. Recently, they launched their #RetrieversDeserve campaign, which petitions for mandatory in-person sexual assault prevention education training on campus to help reduce those numbers.
“We think it’s important for people to have that education to not only see and know what it would look like, but to know how big it is on campus because students are blindsided to it,” said Dakota Murray, President of We Believe You and sophomore psychology major.
Vice President and sophomore math major Kim Spadafora also agreed, saying that mandated education training will benefit students regardless of gender or orientation.
“If you come to campus and make a friend and care enough about that friend, get training,” she said. “If you go home to visit your friends, get training. Anything can happen. Anywhere. Anytime. To anyone.”
To survivors coping or struggling to cope after their experiences, one survivor sums it best: “It gets better. It got better for me. And when you feel like the damage is eating you alive, if you just put your hand on your heart and know that it’s beating, it could be a lot, lot worse.”
More opportunities to support or join the discussion on sexual assault also remain. The Monument Quilt, an event where survivors and allies patch their stories into a giant quilt, was scheduled for Tuesday, April 17.
Anyone interested in signing the #RetrieversDeserve petition can visit bit.ly/UMBCretrieversdeserve.