Taking back the night one march at a time

By Jessica Demetriou

When freshman Tiana Gary walked through the doors of the SRC lobby on Tuesday, she was not there to play games or relax on the couches. She was there to take a stand against sexual violence.

Gary attended Take Back the Night, which was co-sponsored by Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), SEC and Womanspace. During an open session where everyone was encouraged to speak, Gary shared her own personal story about people she knew who were affected by sexual abuse.

“I decided to speak out tonight, because this is a very important issue and I wanted to participate in it,” Gary said. “This is something affecting so many women and I don’t know how anyone can not care about this issue.”

Gary explained that sexual violence happens to a lot of people’s family members and friends, who never reach out for help. She added that the issue even exists here at Rider and can occur in many different ways.

“I didn’t plan on sharing my story when I came tonight, but I thought people should know that sexual abuse isn’t always physical, it can be mental too,” she said.

During the open session, other women talked about their own experiences with their mothers or friends being victims of rape or emotionally abusive relationships. The message was clear – no one has to live with the fear of being abused.

Take Back the Night is a worldwide stand against sexual abuse, where men and women can address issues such as domestic violence and rape. The event originated in Europe in the 1970s and came to the United States in 1976 when women in San Francisco rallied against violence in pornography and the media.

Tuesday’s event began with keynote speaker, Patty Barahona, who is the community outreach educator for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Barahona spoke about empowering the community to take a stand and to hold one another accountable for sexual violence.

“Somewhere along the line, violence became cool,” Barahona said. “It’s not cool. I challenge you to make it uncool. We don’t want anyone violating out minds, our bodies, or our spirits. Work together to find out what’s acceptable.”

As Barahona spoke, images flashed behind her on a screen, showing women around the world taking a stand against violence. Posters were hung around the walls and windows of the lobby with sayings such as, “Violence does not equal love” and “Take control.”

When sophomore Lisa McDonough came to Rider last year, she had already familiarized herself with women’s movements and rape statistics, because she believed they were serious issues that people should be aware of.

“This has always been a big part of my life,” McDonough said. “[Feminists] Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem have always been my idols and women I tried to emulate.”

McDonough is now secretary of VOX. She said that the group aimed to empower women and men on Rider’s campus to be more aware of sexual violence. She explained that the stars that were strung in the trees were all part of the theme for the night’s event.

“This year’s theme is, ‘Follow the stars to take back the night,’” McDonough said. “Each [star] has different statistics or sayings on them.”

VOX President Jessica LeBeau also expressed her commitment to protect the women close to her from abusive relationships and encouraged others to regain their own voices and become survivors.

“Violence takes away our freedom,” she said. “The purpose of Take Back the Night is to unify students in an awareness of violence against women, children and families.”

LeBeau went to her first Take Back the Night rally at The College of New Jersey in 2004 and said she was so moved by the courage of the people who spoke that she committed to bringing the event to Rider.

“I felt as though this event needed to be brought to Rider in order to let students know that these things do happen and that Rider needs to take a stand against violence as a community,” LeBeau said.

During the presentation, VOX members presented a check to Susan Adams, a representative from Womanspace. The money was raised during the March performances of The Vagina Monologues and totaled more than $2,100

As students began their march through the residential quad of the Lawrenceville campus, they waved posters and chanted empowering words such as, “Join together, free our lives, we will not be victimized!” Students handed out informational bracelets and encouraged onlookers to join the walk for the cause.

The march ended with a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Moore Library, where sophomore Ellen Thompson read a heartfelt poem by Marge Piercy about abuse against women. As dusk settled, Thompson’s voice echoed across the campus mall, calling for students to open their eyes to the horrors of sexual violence.

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