Taking back the night

Afsha Kasam

[media-credit name=”Madi Hayes” align=”alignright” width=”200″]IMG_4857[/media-credit]

The Mount Carmel Auditorium was filled with listening ears and saddening stories this past Tuesday night, beginning at 8 p.m.

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the student organization Women in Support of Humanity (WISH) held its annual “Take Back the Night” event.

This event is held on college campuses all across the country.

Since the 1970s, U.S. colleges and universities have been sponsoring events for the Take Back the Night Foundation. Take Back the Night emphasizes the importance of eliminating the various forms of sexual and domestic violence, according to the foundation’s website.

Take Back the Night is a speak-out for survivors of sexual violence, according to Marisa Otis, senior and president of WISH.

“It’s called Take Back the Night because it’s supposed to be an empowering event,” Otis said. “To not let survivors’ stories just fade out into the night, to let them be told.”

Otis said that women fear going out into the night alone because of the possibility of sexual assault.

Take Back the Night addresses this fear through support.

Christina Heffern, senior and treasurer of WISH, believes that this event is powerful.

“It helps a lot of people to come and talk about what they have been through,” Heffern said. “I think it’s very empowering, and I think this is one of my favorite events that we do.”

Speakers from the “Jane Doe No More” Foundation came in and shared their stories of sexual violence. The organization has a survivor speak outreach team. Therefore, they are used to sharing their stories.

Donna Palomba, founder and president of “Jane Doe No More,” was one of the speakers. She hopes that the work of the organization helps other victims gather the courage to know that they are not alone.

Jane Doe No More’s mission is to improve the manner in which society reacts to survivors of sexual assault through awareness, advocacy and support, according to its website.

Palomba spoke about how she started this organization because she was raped.

She later found out that the perpetrator was someone who her husband had played football with in high school. This perpetrator had also targeted other women. Legal measures undertaken were too slow to address this concern.

After the speakers set the stage, the audience had the chance to talk about their stories in a supportive space.

Survivors within the audience told their stories. However, people who knew loved ones affected by sexual violence spoke up as well. Many people commended speakers on how brave they were for telling their stories.

Survivors mentioned how some important people in their lives did not believe their story or were not understanding enough.

Otis seems to agree that society can be unjust at times.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions around the word ‘feminism,’” Otis said. “People think we live in a post-feminist society, where we don’t need to fight for women’s rights or gender equality.”

Palomba believes that there is a problem with society as well. She believes that by addressing the problem, such as through the Take Back the Night event, can be healing for people who have experienced sexual violence.

“The first step to healing is talking about it,” Palomba said. “We need to free the survivors of sexual violence.”

Events such as Take Back the Night give people the platform to speak about their feelings.

Talking about sexual violence helps society become educated enough to understand survivors and believe their words, according to Palomba.

After the speak-out, the event closed with a candlelit vigil outside. Participants gathered together, and there was a moment of silence for victims and survivors.

Participants were invited to sign a banner, pledging to end sexual assault. Two simple sentences on the banner helped remind people of this pledge: “Shatter the Silence. Stop the Violence.”

There were also pins and stickers offered to the participants. These giveaways had messages of strength and hope.

Palomba hopes that survivors learn to come forward.

“It’s written all over these victims’ faces. They’re just so pent up with all this emotion,” Palomba said. “And to internalize it, it is damaging to your physical, emotional, spiritual well-being.”