Activists rally against sexual assault

The steps of Green Hall were illuminated by candles and glow-stick necklaces as students gathered last Wednesday for Take Back the Night, an evening of marching and rallying against sexual assault.

The College’s 15th annual Take Back the Night rally was organized as part of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and sponsored by the Women’s Center, Women in Learning and Leadership, Voices for Planned Parenthood, PRISM and other student organizations.

According to Susan Adams, coordinator of volunteers and community outreach for Womanspace, part of the Mercer County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), Take Back the Night is designed as a supportive event for students affected by sexual assault.

“We are standing here now, making our voices heard and saying that this is not acceptable, not even one assault,” Adams said.

As a division of SART, Womanspace annually assists more than 2,000 women and families affected by violence and sexual assault, Adams said.

Adams also said that according to recently released reports from the New Jersey State Police, there were 1,308 rapes in the state, 63 of those in Mercer County. These numbers do not include unreported assaults. One of the goals of Take Back the Night is to encourage women and men to report any assaults.

Anne Smolen, freshman deaf education and English major and treasurer of the Women’s Center, said many incidents of sexual assault occur among college-aged people in the United States.

“It’s something that is extremely prevalent in the 16 to 19 age group, so it applies to the campus,” Smolen said. “We’re doing this because when you bring awareness, you bring change.”

To help raise awareness at the College, Ellen Friedman, professor of English and faculty adviser to the Women’s Center, read a list of myths and facts about sexual assault. Myths include: “You cannot be assaulted against your will,” “It is impossible to sexually assault a man,” and “Sexual assault is an impulsive act.”

Friedman said that contrary to beliefs about sexual assault and rape, approximately 75 percent of incidents are planned and as many as 80 percent involve acquaintances.

Members of the crowd were also encouraged to participate in the event. The sponsoring organizations provided interested students with facts and statistics about sexual assault that they could read at the podium before the march began.

Many students attend the event annually, but those present for the first time said they felt a need to participate and were glad they came out.

“I had never been before and I’m a junior, so I wanted to experience it,” Julie Ann Howlett, junior biology major, said. “I’m taking a class on power, oppression and privilege, so I wanted to go to an event against oppression.”

According to Kristen Daskilewicz, senior women’s and gender studies major and president of the Women’s Center, the history of Take Back the Night is unclear. However, the first known rally in the United States was in San Francisco, Calif., in 1978. She said the event was founded on “the right to be free from violence, the right to be heard and the right to take back those rights if they are violated.”