Nicole Denson, the associate director at Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s program, inspired the audience of Ann Arbor’s 40th annual Take Back the Night rally — a march taking a stand against sexual violence — with an empowering call.
“Let’s not make this a sad night, let’s make this a happy night,” Denson said. “Let’s take back the night!”
The event, hosted by Michigan Takes Back the Night and a team of volunteers, aimed to support and empower survivors, provide resources, and collectively take a stand against sexual assault. The night began with attendees interacting with different organizations tabling at the event, such as Women and Gender in Public Policy, Planned Parenthood and #StandWithTheseGirls. All the while, inspiring songs like Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” played on the speakers, culminating in the projection of the music video of Kesha’s “Praying,” a song of healing, hope and forgiveness.
This theme of healing was emphasized in singer-songwriter Jena Irene Asciutto’s performances as well. Asciutto, the 2014 runner-up of “American Idol,” sang her songs “Numb,” “Innocence” and “Unbreakable” between the different speeches.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor spoke first, expressing his support of Take Back the Night’s message, as well as organizations across Ann Arbor combating sexual violence. He recognized the gravity of this issue and the great deal of work which needs to be done, but said he remained optimistic.
“Sexual harassment and assault and violence burdens and degrades the lives of women and girls every day,” Taylor said. “It is the expression and instrument of male dominance. But it is not inevitable. Cultural change, even in problems as deep-seeded as this, can happen. It does come slowly, but it can happen.”
Keynote speaker Margaret Tallet, the COO of Michigan Women’s Foundation, discussed her work as the leader of Enough Said, a campaign to remove the accumulation of untested rape kits in Detroit. She said some of these kits contained the information of women whose rapes had occurred as far as 25 years ago. Tallet highlighted the immense support she garnered from community members, including DeAndre Levy of the Detroit Lions, and how the hard work of constituents in fundraising eventually garnerd the attention of local politicians.
“It’s been grassroots,” Tallet said. “It’s been people like you who create a difference.”
Tallet was proud to report the last of the untested rape kits in Detroit were mailed to a lab two weeks ago. She again acknowledged the community’s efforts and urged the ralliers to come together in the chant, “Enough said!”
“It truly is an act of an entire community of people who care and because this is a rally, I want to end with all of you saying enough said,” Tallet said.
The organizers also brought the ralliers together through activities like the men’s pledge, when all the men at the rally walked to the stage to sign a commitment to work to fight sexual violence. Student speakers also provided information on SafeHouse and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center as resources for survivors of sexual violence.
Engineering sophomore Alex Backus said he attended Take Back the Night to support the organization and empower other survivors, being a survivor himself. He also applauded the event’s ability to raise awareness and make change.
“I think these kinds of events open people’s eyes,” Backus said. “A lot of people don’t realize that things like this happen all the time. So, I think these events make people aware and make people understand that we need to change things.”
Before the ralliers went off to march the streets of Ann Arbor, Denson and other organizers read their list of demands detailing action, they believe, must be taken to end sexual violence. Each demand was punctuated by attendees stomping their feet or cheering. The last one, promising to continue their activism to end sexual violence after the event, ended with an eruption of applause.