Despite frigid temperatures, about 100 students and community members marched through the streets of Ann Arbor on Thursday night to “take back the night” and raise awareness for sexual assault on college campuses.

Though Take Back the Night is believed to have originated in 19th-century London when women marched for safer streets, it has since evolved into an international movement of over 1,000 annual marches and rallies. These events, such as the one in Ann Arbor, work to provide a safe place for survivors of sexual assault to come together and share their stories.

Take Back the Night and University of Michigan Students Against Rape organized the Ann Arbor march and rally, and allowed organizations with similar goals such as SafeHouse, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Planned Parenthood to table inside the Michigan Union, where the rally was held.

Ann Arbor residents Tom and Pam Swider kicked off the rally, themed “The Power of Words,” noting it was their ninth year of organizing the event and the 39th annual rally in Ann Arbor.

Pam Swider emphasized the importance of the rally as a way to create an accessible space for victims of assault to reach out to others, as well as to overcome the feeling of shame that sometimes follows an assault.

“Shame is such a powerful and harsh aspect of sexual violence,” she said. “But the more we talk about it, the easier it is for someone who has been assaulted to reach out to others for support and help.”

State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) gave the opening address, during which she emphasized the power of events like Take Back the Night to incite dialogue surrounding sexual assault. She presented the statistic that only 20 percent of assaults are reported, and Take Back the Night raises awareness for such a relevant issue.

“For one night every year, the rally provides an exceptional opportunity to raise awareness for this issue that is so critical, and unfortunately for many of us, too close to home,” Warren said. “So we march tonight, we rally today in solidarity, with countless survivors.”

In lieu of a keynote speaker, event organizers chose to have Public Health student Traci Ayub and LSA sophomore Vivian Trutzl recite personal poems regarding their experiences with sexual violence.

“It was from a rape poem that I discovered I was a survivor too,” Trutzl said. “Keep writing rape poems, keep getting pissed.”

Throughout the event, volunteer psychological counselors, identifiable by white arm bands, were available for those who needed to discuss the heavy subject matter. Furthermore, those who chose to identify as survivors wore teal armbands.

March participant Kimmy Thompson, a student at Concordia University, said she believes getting students to participate in sexual assault awareness is more impactful than using adults and other organizations.

“Get students involved, make it heard through the students,” she said. “Adults and organizations can say all they want, but making the issue more student driven is important.”

Following the completion of the speeches, march participants picked up colorful signs and blue balloons, signifying those killed in acts of sexual violence, and began reciting the organization’s list of demands. These demands ranged from “no means no” to ending sexual violence and other forms of oppression.

Once outside, the group released the balloons into the air as a symbol of hope for survivors, before commencing the march and chanting to end sexual assault.  

LSA junior Kelly Guerin, student leader of Michigan Takes Back the Night, said she first became involved with the organization after taking a self-defense class in high school and realizing she wanted to get involved with sexual assault prevention on campus.

“I’m a junior now, but when I was a senior in high school, they made all the girls take a self-defense course, and half the self-defense course was about awareness about rape and sexual assault and how to prevent it on college campuses, and the second half was self-defense,” she said.  “I did karate so I knew all about the self-defense part of it, but I really wanted to get more involved with the activism side of it, because I was never really exposed to that in high school.”

She explained how the organization aided her in deciding to become a lawyer, as well as largely impacted her life in general.

“I feel like it’s really impacted my life because I want to be a lawyer, I want to advocate for people who are victims of rape and sexual assault, so this organization has definitely had a huge impact on my life,” she said.

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