Hundreds of students rallied together near the flagpoles on the night of Wed., April 17, to take a stand against sexual violence during UC Irvine’s annual Take Back the Night event.
Take Back the Night began in 1973 as a protest against pornography in San Francisco. Now, 40 years later, the organization’s mission and fight to change sexualized culture continues.
UCI’s Take Back the Night started at 7 p.m. with a musical performance and an opening speech by Director of UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) Dr. Mandy Mount. The entire staircase was packed, with many other students hovering behind to listen.
“I am saddened that we live in a country where one in three women and one in six men can expect to be victimized by a completed or attempted sexual assault in their lifetime,” Mount said. “Where our students who enter into college excited about living on their own… end up being sexually violated by people they trust, taken advantage of while they are vulnerable.”
Following Mount’s speech was a speech by Mike Knox, director of UCI New Student Programs, and Dawn Foor, senior supervisor at Community Service Programs. Knox educated the audience about gender identities and how the society socializes men and women to believe they need to act a certain way, that men need to exhibit violence in order to show they are strong and women need to care about their sexuality.
“We are trained in a society to value girls and women based on their appearances and not on what they can do or who they are,” Knox said.
Both talked about how the culture further perpetuates the message that women are sexual beings and are the ones to blame for sexual assault. Foor became particularly open on this issue, strongly stating this:
“What social norm compelled Dolce and Gabana to slather our cities with monstrous billboards in which one women encircled by 5 males, one holding her down in preparation for a gang rape? What norm prevented us from demanding that those billboards be removed?
“Because rape has been prettified, people have no compunction to say things like ‘so and so was asking for it.’ I’m probably not the only one here tonight who says, how do you ask for that? Do you jump up and say, would you please hold me down and force your way into my body and rip out my soul and shatter my hopes and dreams and give me fears and phobias that I never knew existed and devastate my family and change my life forever — would you rape me please??”
After the three speakers gave powerful speeches to raise awareness and consciousness regarding sexual violence, the program continued into a candlelight ceremony as hundreds of students marched around campus to speak out against the atrocity. Their loud cries reverberated across campus, shouting slogans like “Join together, free our lives, we will not be victimized!”, “Take back the night, the time is near, we will not be controlled by fear!” and ” Yes means yes, no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go!” A couple of students were beating on drums in the background, amplifying the momentum and the energy of the students’ protests. The march then went into a time of silence as participants walked along solemnly, remembering those who have been victims of injustice. Tiny flames from the candles flickered brightly against the night in the students’ hands.
Elsa Sanchez, a second-year history major, remembered her family members who were survivors of sexual violence.
“You connect more with it when you see the way it’s affected your loved ones, the way it has scared them for life,” she said. “I find it motivating that so many people are coming together to participate in an event that is so liberating.”
Take Back the Night concluded with a powerful time of sharing from survivors of sexual violence, which continued until about 1:45 a.m. Students courageously stepped forward, many coming out with their stories publicly for the first time. The audience listened intently, some with concerned looks on their faces due to the shocking nature of the trauma survivors had to overcome. Some shared about how they were molested as a child by someone they knew and how their parents and others did not believe them when they told them about the incident. Others talked about how they were forced into sex while they were at a party. Even though they had given absolutely no consent, the physical strength of the male overpowered them.
Others spoke of being in abusive relationships and falling into a continuous cycle of sexual violence and self-destruction. Many of these people suffered the repercussions of post-traumatic stress, self-hatred, low self-esteem, shame, fear and the unbelief or accusation of others.
However, courage was stirred up amongst many individuals to speak out as they heard other students coming out with similar stories. The supportive space and community created at Take Back the Night became evident as more gained the confidence to share.
“I saw people sharing, and I’ve never heard anyone sharing about what I went through, but now I realize that I’m not alone,” a student stated. “Now I’m glad I didn’t do it (commit suicide) because I see all of you guys.”
Another student encouraged survivors to not be ashamed of what they went through. “You have a voice, and you can use it — not using your voice is going to make you more handicapped.”
Foor also encouraged the students to see the differences that individual actions can make upon the society.
“Forty years ago there were no rape crisis centers in America, no services, no hotlines, nothing. Now, there is close to 9,000.”
She reminded everyone of their responsibility to be brave and continue to the fight against things they know are wrong.
“Forty years later we come together… Right here at UCI to change a society… All of us have the ability and the responsibility to clean up the battlefield. It is your generation that must embrace the baby steps that we made 40 years ago and turn them into powerful strides towards a culture that cannot sanction this insidious thorn of terrorism.”