Women’s Center urges students to ‘Take Back the Night’

A candlelight vigil commemorated the victims of sexual assault during ‘Take Back the Night.’ (Janika Berridge /Staff Photographer)

Solitude and solace were two themes of the night as students gathered to reclaim a space free from sexual assault and violence and silently marched around campus on Wednesday, April 20.

Yet while some aspects of the evening were enveloped by a respectful hush, it is through shattering the silence and sharing their stories that survivors and supporters successfully “took back the night.”

“Take Back the Night” was introduced by its sponsors, who were members of the Women’s Center, as an “international event taking place for 30 years” and an annual occurrence at the College.

Startling statistics were shared, as individuals stepped up to the podium in the Art and Interactive Multimedia (IMM) Building courtyard.

These included: “15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under 12” and “Every 10 minutes in the U.S. someone is sexually assaulted.”

It is through dialogue that guest speaker River Huston has come to terms with her experience.

“I often talk about being a survivor, and I always say to myself that it’s my least favorite thing to do,” Huston said. “And the reason I continue to talk about it is because how life-changing it is, how absolutely and completely devastating sexual assault is … And to stand up here and tell you that you can survive.”

At 14 years old, she went from taking tequila shots and hitchhiking with a friend to being tossed naked out of a stranger’s car into the snow, and waking up in a hospital after having her stomach pumped.

For years after, Huston looked to alcohol for comfort, but this only led to her internalization of self-hatred and depression, she said.

Since then, she has learned that one of the most healing and helpful routes is talking.

“What I am – I’m a writer, I’m a poet and I’m a painter. I’m a wife and a daughter. I’m a lot of things and I happened to survive sexual assault, but I don’t let it define me,” she said.

Urging those in the crowd to not blame themselves or hold everything in, Huston said, “What I ask of you, go on a journey of healing. It’s worth it. Don’t negate it. Don’t’ let it define you. Don’t limit your life by an experience.”

After Huston spoke, participants partook in a march around campus, showing solidarity and support for those who have experienced sexual assault.

In previous years, individuals chanted while walking but this was the first year with a silent march.

According to Sharanya Mohanty, president of the Women’s Center, this change occurred after previous participants reported feeling “uncomfortable” and “self-conscious” about the chanting, since there was only a small group of them shouting around campus.

“We heard their opinions and are trying this method to see how it works out,” the senior psychology major said.

When they returned to the courtyard, students lit candles as a dozen of their classmates – 11 females and one male – courageously took to the podium and opened up about their own experiences with sexual assault. This open mic portion of the evening was introduced as “a place free from judging and fear.”

For a majority of the 12, sharing their stories was a first — whether it was the first time speaking out in front of a large crowd or literally the only time they opened up about the abuse.

“It was a really healing night for people who have been impacted by these issues and for people who are coming here to support them,” Mohanty said. “It showed how important it is for you to be there for people when they need you the most.”

Wax dripped from the candles and tears were shed as students sat on the steps and listened during the empowering evening.

The reading of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou concluded the event: “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise.”

Jamie Primeau can be reached at primeau2@tcnj.edu.