Students Rally Behind Assault Survivors

Story by Broadside Staff Writer Adam Sylvain. Photos by Danny Jackson.

The Take Back the Night Rally has a 19-year history of raising support and a wider knowledge of sexual assault. It is largely student-driven.

The event took place Tuesday evening, Oct. 14. Acknowledging Turn Off the Violence Week, the rally was conceived as a way to include all people, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation in becoming an avenue of support and part of the solution to sexual assault.

The Feminist Ninjas, a student activist group which approaches a variety of issues from a feminist perspective, began organizing this year’s Take Back the Night Rally last May with Sexual Assault Services. Since that time, the group spent considerable time structuring the event in a way that unified and empowered the campus community against sexual assault. The message they created, which they proudly displayed on white T-shirts: Unite. Express. Inform, resonated loudly with the student body.

The rally drew a diverse set of the campus community. Among them was Chen Shen, a freshman majoring in business, who explained her reasons for attending the rally.

“I noticed the crowd as I was walking by, and because I am from China, I’m interested in learning more about the events here. I also was interested in getting more information on how to prevent rape and how to help others,” said Shen.

Before the rally began, over 100 students gathered at North Plaza, as student organizers distributed glow sticks, and upbeat music was played to set the tone for the evening. Members of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity gave each student a candle to hold in recognition of assault and rape survivors.

Connie Kirkland, director of Sexual Assault Services, shared her thoughts on the importance of the rally and what it hoped to accomplish.

“The goal of the event is really to bring men and women together so that everyone can gain a better understanding of sexual violence, how to be supportive and how together we can stop future assault,” said Kirkland.

She also commented on the student attendance at the rally, adding, “The attendance tonight certainly shows interest in supporting fellow students. By being here, listening to the speakers, students are likely to remember what was shared, and to pass along what they heard to friends and family members. I am also surprised and impressed at the number of men that are here. This event has always been open to men and women, but typically about two-thirds of the [200] to 300 students are women.”

Kirkland also stressed the university’s commitment to offering support for assault survivors.

“Sexual Assault Services was created fifteen years ago, and George Mason University is still one of only a few universities in the area with an office specifically for offering support for sexual assault,” Kirkland said. “It really shows the university’s commitment to the issue, from the very top.”

A number of speakers offered support and wisdom in dealing with sexual assault through both personal and professional experience. Survivors of assault were encouraged to gain power back by standing up to the injustice that had affected them. Emphasizing the need to seek support in dealing with the trauma that accompanies rape and assault, one student affirmed Sexual Assult Services as an invaluable resource. As each speaker approached the microphone, and often as they left, the audience let out a chorus of support, sent forth by whistles given out before the rally.

“All people, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, are affected by sexual assault,” said Melissa Krauth, president of the Feminist Ninjas. “It is important to let people know and to receive support. Men and women can both also be offenders of assault and rape. So we [the Feminist Ninjas] encourage everyone to be involved.”

Many in the audience seemed greatly moved during the rally when students were invited to speak out to the crowd and share their personal experience with assault. Brave students took the microphone, one after another, to seek support, vent inner hurt, or for some; to honor a loved one’s experience.

For senior Michelle Parker, double majoring in Spanish and French, these actions were particularly valuable. “I think it is really important to spread awareness about assault. By everyone sharing their experiences; it puts a face on the issue,” said Parker.

Junior Megan Cipperly, a conflict analysis major and women’s gender studies minor, had a similar visual reaction.

“It was good to see support from classmates and a reality check to see and hear people share their personal stories. We hear about all the statistics but knowing the issue, personally, really brings the statistics to life,” said Cipperly.

Freshman finance major, Greg Harris, talked about what he took away from the rally.

“I’m here because I have a lot of friends with experiences in dealing with sexual assault. So I wanted to show support for them and listen to anyone who wanted to let people know about their experiences,” said Harris.

To conclude the rally, the majority of the audience participated in a march around Patriot Circle. Marchers held their candles and made each step a statement of perseverance and tribute for all those touched by sexual assault.

In previous years, the march had been excluded from the event because it was considered disruptive to classes, but it was important to members of the group to reinstate it into this year’s rally.

Following the rally and march, students were invited to gather again at North Plaza, share food and drinks, and dance to music provided by a DJ.

The after-party was new to this year’s rally and was created as a way for students to wind down, mingle and just relax after an emotional evening.

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