Despite the teeth-chattering 41 degree weather, about a 1,000 people gathered around the Campanile Wednesday night for Tech’s 15th annual Take Back the Night (TBTN). In the glow of the light from the lavender luminaries set up around the fountain, students and other supporters gathered to raise awareness of the issue of sexual violence.
“Take Back the Night is a really important event to let people know that this is not just an issue that you see on TV or the news. One in four women are sexually assaulted during their college career. It is something that could happen to your lab partner, or your friend or anyone, so it is really important to raise awareness to prevent it or know what to do if it happens to you,” said Kelsey Tucker, second year PSYC and TBTN chair.
TBTN is held every year during Women’s Awareness Month. This year’s theme was “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.”
“Sexual assault is considered a crime of silence, since so many people are afraid to tell someone what has happened,” said Andrea Naranjo, second-year INTA, survivor and one of the speakers at TBTN. “Take Back the Night is about breaking the silence and removing the stigma from sexual violence. Sometimes it is only with the support of others that your voice can be heard.”
Over the course of the hour, five survivors’ stories were shared, through stories, a poem and even a letter to one victim’s attacker. The goal of survivor stories is both to raise awareness that these crimes do happen at Tech, to hopefully prevent them in the future and to give victims a safe venue to share what has happened and heal.
“Above all, for survivors this event provides a safe place for them to tell their story… while letting people know that they don’t have to be scared to talk if it happens to them or someone that they love,” said Rachel Ellen Weinstein, ISyE ’06, survivor and speaker at TBTN.
Along with the survivor stories, several sexual violence prevention supporters spoke. Ian Mayberry, crime prevention officer in the GTPD, spoke on ways to keep safe and to help prevent sexual assault. He urged students to be especially careful at parties where they do not know all the attendees and to always try to go places in groups.
Ricky Livingston, the sexual assault/violence prevention coordinator in the Department of Health Promotion, talked about the importance in engaging men in sexual violence awareness.
“Most of the men [on campus] aren’t the problem. Most men are supporting this issue and helping out the best they can… Since most of the people who [commit sexual assault] are men, what we hope is that, as men, we can look at those who are causing problems and tell them what they are doing is not right and help someone that has hurt by this,” Livingston said.
Six male students came up and read “Spittin Nails” by Rus Funk, a poem about the feeling of helplessness and anger a man feels when a loved one is sexually assaulted.
Rome Lester, a therapist at the Georgia Tech Counseling Center, was the last speaker of the night. She not only told students about the many avenues of support students could find if they were sexual assault victims, but also she also talked about the strength of the victims that she sees and counsels.
“Over the years, I have been incredibly touched and moved by the mostly women, some men who have told me about the after effects of being assaulted… I have never seen such strength as in some of those people,” Lester said.
She also read quotes of how rape had made victims feel, so that everyone could understand a little better the devastation felt after a sexual assault. One victim described rape as “shattering a pair of sunglasses. The eye becomes exposed to both safe and dangerous intensities of light… The eye can no longer see the world as it once did.”
The night concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony in honor of all the victims of sexual violence. A few people lit candles, and then they then passed the flame on to the rest of the audience as the G.I.F.T.E.D gospel choir sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
“I think that everyone went away with a little more understanding of why this issue is o important after hearing the stories of the survivors,” said Nicole Thomas, co-chair for Women’s Awareness Month. “Take Back the Night is such an eye-opening event every year.”