Ring Road glowed last Wednesday night as students marched during the annual Take Back the Night march and candlelit vigil. Participants set out armed with tealights and empowering chants to raise awareness about violence and sexual assault.
The event included opening remarks by Mandy Mount, director of the UC Irvine Campus Assault Resources and Education center and keynote addresses from UCI head volleyball coach John Speraw, supervisor of CSP Sexual Assault Prevention Education Dawn Foor, and district attorney and victim’s rights advocate Todd Spitzer.
Kicking off the event was a musical performance by James Clarke and a moving spoken word performance by Dajanae Barrows. This year, Take Back the Night closed with a speak-out, in which attendants had the opportunity to share their experiences with the whole group.
“We live in a free democratic country and we choose to ignore rape, to minimize rape and to excuse it,” said Foor, who has been an activist in the sexual assault awareness movement for 40 years.
Many instances of sexual and other physical assault go unheard — roughly 60 percent of cases are never reported — and in many of the cases that are acknowledged, the victim is treated as if they are at fault. Take Back the Night aims to shatter this notion and to spread awareness and understanding, ending sexual violence “one step at a time, one student at a time.”
Take Back the Night began in October 1975 in Philadelphia, Pa. as the community rallied together to demand safety in reaction to the murder of Susan Alexander Speeth, a local microbiologist who was stabbed to death by a stranger while walking home late at night. In March of the following year, the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women met in Brussels, Belgium. Two thousand women representing 40 different countries attended.
These founding events are the basis for the many Take Back the Night marches that have occurred since. Campuses and communities nationwide and internationally have adapted the layout of these two events, creating their own Take Back the Night marches tailored to their needs. Although Irvine is widely considered the safest college town in the country, it is by no means free from assault and violence.
“Even if you live in an area that is safe and clean, life is not,” coach Speraw said.
At UCI, Take Back the Night not only encourages participants to take part in the march, but also gives them the opportunity to visit various educational booths and stations hosted by campus and community organizations. Attendants were given a passport, along with their event program, which could be stamped at each booth visited for entry into a raffle. Booths featured included community organizations such as the Orange County Chapter of the National Organization of Women, Get Safe USA and OC Human Trafficking Task Force. In addition, campus organizations such as the UCI Health Education Center, the UCI LGBT Resource Center, the Muslim Student Union and various sororities and fraternities took part in Take Back the Night.
According to one attendant, the level of acceptance and awareness that is given to victims of sexual assault was disheartening. For example, while sex is often employed as a selling point in advertisements and entertainment, consequences of its abuse are downplayed in the real world. As a result, victims who speak out are often met with opposition.
“We’re here to encourage people to come together and share their stories,” said Lauren Wolfe, who was running the V-Day Booth.
Participants had the opportunity to anonymously share their stories or messages on notecards, and tacked them to a poster board set up on the booth table. Sharing is an important way of communicating and reaching out, especially when it comes to issues as delicate as abuse in which victims may feel ashamed or alone. Sexual abuse and violence are offenses felt not only by their direct victims, but also by family and friends in the lives of the victims as well. Resources and assistance for victims of abuse are always available on campus, and awareness events occur throughout the year.
“This is an inclusive event that involves the whole community,” Mount said of UCI’s Take Back the Night.
“We are all affected by this issue. Each and every one of us.”