More than 150 University students and Ann Arbor residents assembled at the Michigan Union Thursday night for “Take Back the Night,” a rally aimed to raise awareness about sexual assault in the Ann Arbor area. Held annually in April — which is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month — Thursday’s event marked the 35th local Take Back the Night.

Take Back the Night is a national organization that’s goal is to empower and comfort survivors of sexual assault. Part of the event’s goal was to create a safe space in which survivors can share their stories and get mutual support, said Pam Swider, a leader of the Ann Arbor chapter.

The event featured a number of speakers and performers who encouraged sexual assault survivors to focus on moving forward with their lives despite the horrific events they had faced. The indoor event was followed by a march through the streets of Ann Arbor during which participants chanted. (“Out of the buildings and into the streets! Take back the night!”) Participants linked arms and sang during a candlight vigil after the march.

The evening’s key speaker was Gregg Milligan, author of “God Must Be Sleeping,” a memoir detailing his childhood experience of abuse at the hands of his mother, his subsequent recovery and the aftermath. Milligan donates proceeds from book signings and other events to sexual violence support organizations.

Milligan shared many of his personal experiences as a survivor of sexual assault with the crowd.

“What keeps us fighting is life and love,” Milligan said.

Many of the onlookers wore teal armbands to identify themselves as survivors of sexual violence. Counselors with white armbands were also on hand ready to support survivors in need of assistance or just someone to talk to.

Sabra Briere, a Democrat on the Ann Arbor City Council, said the event encourages individuals to feel a sense of control over their lives.

“Take Back the Night is about you feeling powerful,” Briere said. “It’s about you feeling in charge of yourself and in charge of your surroundings and not frightened of strangers or your best friend’s boyfriend.”

Law student Carlyn Williams, a Take Back the Night volunteer, said she joined the organization after the 2012 event.

“I thought it was a great experience to really raise awareness about such a prevalent issue, especially on college campuses,” Williams said.

Williams added that joining the organization has increased her awareness of the prominence of sexual assault and how many people have been affected by sex crimes.

“It’s really opened my eyes to how common sexual assault is, which is awful,” Williams said. “It’s raised my awareness to that and also realizing the amount of comfort that we can give victims by showing our support.”

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