38th Annual Take Back The Night Rally aims to raise awareness of sexual assault

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 - 11:36pm

LSA senior, Katrina Strauss marches with protesters to call for better sexual assault prevention on East Liberty street on Wednesday.

LSA senior, Katrina Strauss marches with protesters to call for better sexual assault prevention on East Liberty street on Wednesday. Buy this photo
David Song/ Daily

 

The 38th annual Take Back the Night rally in Ann Arbor drew students, faculty and community members to the gathering downtown on Wednesday.

Since its founding in 1877 in response to fear and violence experienced by women in England, the Take Back the Night movement has spread internationally, aiming to promote a safe space for survivors to share their stories in a supportive community. The annual marches aim to raise awareness about and stand up to sexual violence.

University Students Against Rape and the Ann Arbor chapter of Michigan Take Back the Night sponsored the Ann Arbor march and rally, with funding and support provided by Central Student Government.

Ann Arbor residents Tom and Pam Swider have been leading Ann Arbor’s chapter of Take Back the Night for the past eight years. They both said they feel a strong commitment to the cause, noting that they work continuously throughout the year to prepare for the rally and march.

Pam Swider introduced the event, saying the intention of Take Back the Night is to start a dialogue about violence.

“This event is a way to start a conversation about something no one wants to talk about,” she said. “Most importantly, we are here to give survivors a voice and give them a chance to celebrate their journey to recovery.”

SafeHouse advocate and survivor Quinn Davis shared her story as the featured keynote speech of the night. Davis said she studied abroad and worked with children in Thailand while coming to terms with the aftermath of rape.

“I was only a surrogate for the rape,” Davis said. “I am too busy nurturing myself to nurture a toxin I did not create and never wanted.”

Davis said she was first able to begin the process of moving forward by turning to dance. She said while she has made progress in the long battle of moving forward, every day she is still reminded of the assault.

“After the rape, dance was one of the only things that felt mostly unchanged,” she said. “It reminded me that my body is for me. It went from something that I did to something that I had to do.”

Volunteer psychological counselors, who were identifiable by white arm bands, were available throughout the march to those who needed them. Some also wore teal arm bands and were available for attendants who wanted to identify as survivors and seek counseling.

Ann Arbor resident Tom Swider introduced the demands of the Take Back the Night supporters, which included “No means no” and “We demand safety everywhere.”

“We gather tonight to demand recognition that sexual violence is in our communities and unite to take a stand against the cycle of violence,” he said.

Before the initial speechs, local singer Ashley Franso, student-run dance team Cadence and various University of Michigan clubs and organizations worked at tables to provide information about their respective missions as well as resources they provide. Participating organizations included the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Spectrum Center, Body Peace Corps, the African American 490 Challenge and Free Hearts, among others.

LSA freshman Kalei Glozier, a member of Spectrum Center’s community engagement team, said his organization decided to table because of the importance of including the LGBTQ community in the conversation around sexual assault.

“Rape does happen in the LGBT community, and sometimes it is taken as not as important, especially among gay men,” Glozier said. “We wanted to promote safe sex and consent.”

Margie Pillsbury, head officer of the University Police’s Special Victims Unit, gave a speech about the founding of her unit and the role it has with addressing and providing resources on campus regarding sexual violence.

“In 2015, the University created the Special Victims Unit because we realized that sexual assault and personal crimes are not like other types of crimes that police investigate,” she said. “When a person who you know and trust violates your body by assaulting you or raping you, it is not so easy to just call the police and make a report.”

She said the goal of the unit is to investigate sexual assaults, domestic violence, stalking and child abuse, adding that she hopes her team’s work will make a difference concerning prevention and support.

“We want to make things easier for survivors so they have the options they need and deserve,” she added. “We want to change the culture and be the change agent.”

Take Back the Night student leader Audrey Parenti, an LSA senior, became involved in the event after attending the rally her freshman year. Parenti said sexual violence is a pressing issue on campus that needs to be addressed.

“I think there is a lot more that needs to be done,” Parenti said.

After the speeches and statements of demands, members of the audience grabbed posters, signs and balloons in preparation for the march portion of the event, which commenced outside of the Michigan Union.  Students and community members gathered and chanted in unison, chanting “two, four, six, eight! No more violence, no more rape!”

LSA senior Naoshin Khan, co-president of an anti-human trafficking club on campus known as FreeHearts, said events such as Take Back the Night are important as sexual assault and abuse is an issue that is not receiving enough attention at the University.

“I feel like sexual violence is not talked about on campus,” Khan said. “It is the duty of the University to increase awareness and take actions on preventing future crimes from occurring.”