Students ‘Take Back the Night’
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 00:04
The Violence Against Women Prevention Program lit up UConn this Wednesday with Take Back the Night. The event was kicked off in the Student Union Ballroom with rousing speeches and other acts. The goal for the event was to empower survivors and give them hope and strength. This year’s TBTN focused on creating change one voice at a time. The theme of the night was speaking out against rape culture in our society.
The program started at 7 p.m. with a performance by a cappella group A Minor. After their performance the TBTN team recited “Over It” by Eve Ensler. With lines like “We just don’t think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot” this poem was jarring and truthful. It was personal as well, criticizing a platform almost all students use: Facebook. Lines like “I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook” showed how widespread and pervasive the problem is. The chorus of “Because we are over I” ended the recitation on a powerful note.
Keynote speaker Nikki McGary delivered a speech next. McGary is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, a women studies instructor and a Vagina Warrior. “What an amazing turnout. See who you are in solidarity with. You are creating change one voice at a time,” she said addressing the large crowd. She urged the audience to “make visible” the problem of sexual violence and become critical of a world where “women are afraid to walk out at night in fear of sexual assault.” She pointed out that although April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, sexual assault occurs every day and is a year round problem. As instructor for the class Women and Violence, McGary receives many emails from students sharing their own stories about sexual violence. She wished that she could unite these students with these experiences in solidarity and was glad that TBTN was an event that allowed this.
“Gendered violence is a pervasive epidemic,” said McGary. Our “heterosexist, sexist and racist society culminates in one out of six women and one of 33 men in the United States being sexually assaulted.” The numbers grow higher for minorities or members of the LGBTQI community. “The number one killer of pregnant women is murder by their partner,” said McGary.
“Sexual assault and rape is not in a vacuum,” she said. “Sexual violence has become institutionalized and structured.” According to McGary only 1 in 16 rapists are convicted and rape kits sit in warehouses collecting dust. McGary cited that a journalist followed up on claims that the rape kits weren’t used because of funding issues, and found that the state spent more money on buying officers new cars. “What is it that we are allowing our politicians to prioritize?” asked McGary. But it is not just the government, according to McGary, all institutions, including schools and universities, share the responsibility. “All social institutions are interconnected; change needs to happen on all fronts,” she said.
McGary stressed that change was very possible. “Change can happen,” she said. “You all have power too.” According to McGary even something as small as being kind and respectful was enough to shatter the silence about rape. She encouraged the audience to watch their language and be careful about how they used words like “gay” and “pussy.” She encouraged women to love their body in a society that teaches them to hate it.
The Men’s Project spoke next and reminded everyone about the large role which men played in perpetuating rape culture. They asked, “Why should women be complacent in a world that is hostile to them?”
After an hour of presentations, the crowd filed out and picked up their candles. With posters in hand they walked the campus. The leaders of the march warned them that the march might encounter resistance and in such an event, advised them to avoid confrontation, but simply chant louder. With shouts like “Sexist, rapist, anti-gay, don’t you take our night away!” and “We have the power, we have the right, the streets are ours take back the night!” they shook the campus.