Community "Takes Back the Night"

BY EFE AYANRUOH | MAY 01, 2015 5:00 AM

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With chants and colorful placards, roughly 200 women and men took to the streets of downtown Iowa City on Thursday evening to denounce sexual violence.

Some of the signs read “Respect all of me,” “Silence is not consent,” and other phrases critical of sexual misconduct. 

The annual Take Back the Night rally is aimed at promoting more awareness of sexual violence in the community.

“We do Take Back the Night every year as an event to symbolically and realistically create a safe space for survivors,” said Susan Junis, the prevention education coordinator for the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

The event was split up into three parts — a rally, a march, and a speak-out.

The rally created a space whereby the issue of sexual assault was generally discussed. A march around downtown, which lasted for approximately 30 minutes, followed the rally.

“This march symbolized taking back the streets, taking back the fear and creating a space where all could feel safe,” Junis said.

The last part of the event was the speak-out. This was a space in which survivors talked about their experiences. For some, it was the first time they had shared their experience to anyone.

With the support of the crowd, survivors were able to tell their stories, which moved people emotionally.

“The speak-out is a space where survivors can talk about their experiences in a way that they feel not judged, not ashamed of what happened and also can speak their truths,” Junis said.

Since the mid-1970s, Iowa City community members have participated in Take Back the Night. The event is held every April to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Attendees of the event expressed their appreciation for having the opportunity to hear survivor’s stories.

“This is not what I was expecting but it was an amazing turnout,” University of Iowa student Jessica Frye said. “I mean, I was touched. People are dealing with these things, and we don’t realize it. The best thing to do is to show support and awareness.”

One UI student said the event broadened his horizons.

“I am happy I was able to do this sort of thing before I left [college],” UI senior Sean Haracz said. “It really just showed me that you can live in the city for four-plus years, but you never really know that this kind of thing is going on around you. But people will share their experience if given a space to talk.”

While the event was an empowering one for survivors, it was an opportunity for people to hear firsthand the stories of survivors.

“It’s amazing to be surrounded by such strong resilient people but it’s really heartbreaking to see such beautiful individuals whose life’s have been so damaged by sexual violence,” UI graduate student Lauren Levy said.

Although there is an improvement in ensuring that people are safe, Junis still believes there is still room for improvement.

“I think there is more that the university can do in ensuring that our campus is safer for everyone, but we are getting better and better,” Junis said.

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