by Alice Giovanna Terriquez
Walking up the steps towards the flagpoles, I hear a booming voice echo from the speakers.
“The problem is that we still have survivors” said CSP (Community Service Programs) Sexual Assault Victims Service supervisor Dawn Foor.
I looked around me: candles were being lit to my right and colorful T-shirts with writing on them hung to my left. I could see dozens of people on the steps and more pausing their walk to inquire about what was taking place so late in the evening.
It was the 19th annual Take Back the Night event. A volunteer handed me the march chants. “Sexists, rapists, anti-gay don’t you take our night away,” read the first chant. A lighted gold cart and volunteers with megaphones guided us towards the social sciences.
“Yes means yes! No means no! Whatever we wear! Wherever we go!” we began to chant.
I noticed that the ratio of men to women marching was higher than I had expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Sexual assault is not just a ‘women’s issue,’ as was repeated multiple times over the night. Standing among so many strangers, there grew a sense of community that I had never experienced at UCI before.
“We have the power, we have the right, the streets are ours, take back the night!”
Although we were not having a conversation yet, our chants were strong.
“Take back the night, the time is near, we will not be controlled by fear!”
When the march ended, we were handed passports with all the organizations that had booths set up along ring road including CHAMPS (Championing All Men to Prevent Sexism), Right to Know, Human Options, OEOD (Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity) and several Greek organizations. For one night, our community came together to create a space for survivors to come out of the shadows.
As I went from booth to booth I noticed that everyone’s purpose was to address the fact that sexual violence is not just a woman’s issue, and not just one organization’s job — it is the combined job of our community, education system and political leaders.
Not one song, one work of art, one organization, nor one group of people can fix the fact that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men are being sexually assaulted every year.
As I approached the international booth, I was educated on the barrier that international students face when trying to seek help for their assault.
“It is difficult for them to come forward because they are not from here, they keep the pain inside and this oftentimes leads to mental health issues,” said a volunteer at the booth.
“Women are not an object” was written in big bold letters across a red background at CHAMPS’s booth. Peer Educator Sandra Balbuena addressed the students that gathered there and informed them about the dangers that media places on women by depicting them as objects. When a woman is portrayed as something to be seen but not heard, it leaves them in danger of becoming victims with no space to come forward.
The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD) was next to the UCI Police Department and both had passionate members of their offices handing out pamphlets and playing trivia games that informed the students about the process a victim went through if they decided to come forward.
“Primary prevention is crucial to ending sexual violence,” shared primary prevention advocate Katrina Vergara. “We must educate our youth about safe sex, which is why next week ASUCI is hosting ‘Let’s Talk Sex,’ a workshop to get rid of the stigma surrounding sex.”
Other organizations discussed the importance of informing the community and being proactive in ending sexual violence. Neglecting a problem does not make it go away; it makes it exist quietly and harder to end.
As I finished visiting the booths, I felt simultaneously like a feather and like I was carrying a boulder. I was among people who knew about sexual assault; they knew about the terrors, the victims and the survivors. Survivors were joined by people who now knew who survivors were and how to help them heal. Secrecy and silence allows predators to get away with their crimes.
To close the night, the speak-out provided a powerful end to an already moving event. As I held my pamphlets in my hands and listened to the survivors, tears rolled down my face, again feeling that imbalance of light and heavy. Heavy because the pain of survivors was very present, but also light because I was less ignorant to the issues. I now carried knowledge that would enable me to be another tool in raising awareness to end sexual violence and not a bystander.
Violence Intervention Prevention (VIP) Chairs of the Greek community, Right to Know mentors, CHAMP coordinators, CARE staff and all those who participated have taken us one step closer to ending this terrible epidemic of sexual violence by making us all assets to the solution.
When we first begin our journey at UCI, we expect to see people running around with backpacks, hoping to join a club that would make the stress of our schoolwork seem not so impossible. However, Take Back the Night is an event that helps us realize that we have come to this university to participate in something bigger than ourselves.
As the night ended, I noticed that everyone walked away with valuable knowledge, either of where they could refer a survivor for help (the CARE office) or how to get more involved (such as through VIP, Right to Know and CHAMPS).
We walked away more powerful and prepared than when the march began.