About 50 people from the Ann Arbor community and the greater Southeastern Michigan area gathered at the Diag last night for Take Back The Night, an annual rally intended to raise awareness about sexual assault and to show support for victims.
The national organization of Take Back The Night has hosted rallies for the past 31 years. The events are designed to provide comfort and support to the survivors of sexual assault, said Pam Schwider, the community leader of the University’s chapter of Take Back The Night.
“We look at this as a celebration of the survivors,” Schwider said. “This is to get excited, to raise awareness, and to understand that for the people who are survivors, they’re not alone, and it’s not something that’s going to destroy them.”
After several speakers and performance artists encouraged the audience to campaign for an end to sexual violence, the rally then turned into a march throughout downtown Ann Arbor and concluded with a candlelight vigil back on the Diag.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje spoke during the opening remarks of the rally about the prevalence of sexual assault in the city and on campus.
“Every year, we have about 30 cases of criminal sexual assault,” Hieftje said. “The more we educate people about this, the more we can bring that number down.”
Keynote speaker Jennifer Pasquale, a prevention education specialist, spoke about her daughter’s struggle to recover after being sexually assaulted. She urged those in attendance to be open to listening to friends and family who may be in need after such a situation.
“When someone comes to you and says, ‘Something happened and it doesn’t feel right and I feel ashamed,’ listen to them and support them,” Pasquale said.
It is especially important to be aware of victims’ differing needs during their recovery, Pasquale said.
“It doesn’t help if we silence the victim,” she said. “It’s okay to talk about it, or to not talk about it.”
Ann Arbor’s Take Back The Night rally is organized each year by volunteers, seven of whom this year are University students, according to Schwider.
Ann Arbor resident Karaten Birge said she has been volunteering with Take Back the Night for the past few years, and handed out programs at last night’s rally.
“I am a survivor (of sexual assault), and I’m really passionate about getting the word out,” Birge said. “I feel this is important because it’s something people don’t want to talk about.”
Pasquale highlighted the fact that one out of every four women and one out of every 33 men are sexually assaulted, and stressed that all people have the right to be protected from sexual violence.
“We all have equal value in our relationships, no matter what we’re wearing, no matter what we’re drinking, no matter what party we go to,” Pasquale said.
Many of the attendees were survivors of sexual assault themselves and wore teal armbands to identify themselves.
Engineering junior Amanda Sosne said volunteering with Take Back The Night and attending the event has been a meaningful experience because of a personal incident.
“My friend was involved in (the rally) last year, and after I was attacked, it made sense to get involved,” said Sosne.
Sosne said it can be therapeutic for victims of sexual assault to attend events like Take Back The Night.
“Some people really get a lot out of helping others, out of knowing they’re not alone and talking to others who have the same problems,” she said.