Sara Ylen, a wife and mother of two small children, spoke
Saturday night about how she was sexually assaulted in a Meijer
parking lot in broad daylight almost three years ago.
She said it took her four days before she felt ready to tell an
emergency room doctor and the police about her assault, and soon
afterward she began blaming herself for the assault.
Ylen was the keynote speaker at the 25th annual Take Back the
Night rally Saturday evening on the Diag. More than 300 people
gathered to protest sexual violence and comfort one another with
songs, poetry and personal stories.
After the rally, the participants took to the streets waving
signs and chanting demands for safe homes, streets and residence
Event organizer Charity Schmidt said, “Although we may
disagree as to the forms services for survivors may take, at the
heart of the event is a unifying passion to end violence against
Event organizer Charity Schmidt said the rally allows survivors
to support each other.
Schmidt said, “Although we may disagree as to the forms
services for survivors may take, at the heart of the event is a
unifying passion to end violence against women.”
Attitudes about sexual assault haunted Ylen. “I was
constantly dealing with the onslaught of judgment from the people
close to me, and my life had narrowed into two things: fear and
pain,” Ylen said.
She said the turning point of her experiences came when she met
a fellow rape survivor who helped her to admit that she had been a
victim of assault.
In the coming years, she not only helped the police identify her
attacker, but also helped put him in jail by testifying against him
in criminal court.
“My moment of freedom was telling my story in the witness
booth and being able to put the blame back onto him,” she
said. “The guilty verdict was just the icing on the
In addition to stories from survivors, some speakers focused on
the need for increased services to victims and the changes
currently facing the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness
Cathryn Antkowiak-Howard, a community activist, questioned the
University’s and the city’s commitments to services for
sexual assault victims and survivors.
“General counseling services are not responsive to the
needs of sexually assaulted victims,” she said, referring to
the University’s plans to move some services away from
The University will move sexual assault counseling services from
SAPAC, directing victims and survivors to the general counseling
services offered at the Counseling and Psychological Services
office in the Michigan Union.
The student-staffed SAPAC crisis line will also be turned off on
July 1 and all sexual crisis calls directed to Ypsilanti’s
SAFEHouse 24-hour crisis line.
City infrastructure for sexual assault services has also
undergone recent changes. Antkowiak-Howard noted that Washtenaw
County’s Sexual Assault Crisis Center was closed last October
after 27 years of serving the community.
“In 2004, services have been reduced so much as to be
comparable to services offered in 1975,” she said.
“What kind of legacy is that?”
Antkowiak-Howard called on the crowd to call, visit or write
their government officials to protest the changes to services for
sexual assault victims and survivors.
The rally, which was sponsored by the Ann Arbor Coalition
Against Rape, was followed by a march that began on the Diag and
continued through the city’s main streets. The group wove its
way past the Michigan and State theaters on East Liberty Street and
past West Quad and South Quad residence halls.
A Silent Block was observed for victims who died as a result of
sexual violence when the group marched down State Street between
South University and North University avenues.
Students waved signs with messages that said, “Less than 5
percent of rapes against college women are reported to law
enforcement” and “Boys who witness their fathers’
violence are 10 times more likely to abuse in adulthood.”
Schmidt said sexual violence can affect anyone, regardless of
gender or dress.
“We see so many familiar faces at the rally every year, so
the march is a good visual symbol of the need to show that this is
a mainstream problem.
“We need to fight the stereotypes that this is only a
radical or feminist issue,” she said.