Two years ago, Amber was afraid to say “no” to her boyfriend.
“There were so many times when I was just really scared when he would just make me do things I didn”t want to do, and I didn”t want to say no because the one time I did I got really hurt,” the 18-year-old told participants in the 22nd annual Take Back the Night march and rally Friday night on the Diag.
Amber, who didn”t reveal her last name, said her experiences of abuse at the hands of her ex-boyfriend made her feel lonely. She stressed to the audience that no one deserves to go through what she went through. She advocated getting out of abusive relationships as quickly as possible because she warned that they would only get worse with time.
“I am really proud to be here with everyone supporting me because it gives me closure,” she said. “It took me a long time to realize that everything that happened to me wasn”t my fault.”
About 250 people marched through campus following the rally.
“Tonight I will march through the streets to let evil know that I am not afraid,” said Cathy Antkowiak-Howard, who has counseled sexual assault victims since 1987, after being assaulted several times herself.
Antkowiak-Howard, a social worker for 31 years, told the story of how she came back from feeling like nothing to living a fulfilled life.
“Today I do not focus on being a survivor but on thriving. I have learned to turn shame into compassion, fear into knowledge, vulnerability into strength,” Howard said.
“The key to thriving is our refusal to relinquish our spirits to those who raped and abused us. We will take back the night, we will take back our lives,” she said.
Sheila Nelson, a Public Health and Social Work graduate student, said an “epidemic of sexualized violence” incited her to become an organizer for Take Back the Night.
“There is no one in the world who should have to face that. I am here to honor every survivor,” she said.
Denise Diggs-Taylor, the event”s keynote speaker and education director at the School of Social Work, discussed reaching out to oppressed and battered minority groups. She said biases need to be dealt with in order to help those groups that aren”t getting the care they deserve.
“You need to take time to learn about other minority groups. All you need to do is take that first step and you can do that on the march tonight,” she said.
In addition to speakers, the band Absolving Ease and singer Jennifer Erb performed at the rally.
RC junior Akosua Mireku, lead singer for Absolving Ease, said, “I consider myself an activist and I was honored to have the chance to hopefully touch someone with my music.”
Take Back the Night is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Coalition Against Rape and University Women Against Rape and is held for anyone who has experienced domestic or sexual violence or for anyone who wanted to add their voice to the fight against domestic and sexualized violence.
“The people and local government of Ann Arbor really support this event,” said Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, who attended the rally.
“It is important to educate people and to empower women who are coming that are survivors. That is why I came out,” said Amy Hansen, a first-time participant who will be entering the School of Social Work in the fall and who is a volunteer for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center.