Community marches to take back the night
By Eliza Relman, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, April 22, 2010
Approximately 40 students, administrators and community members participated in Wednesday evening’s 38th annual “Take Back the Night” event, an effort to promote sexual assault awareness coordinated by the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program.
“Claim our bodies, claim our rights, take a stand, take back the night,” participants chanted as they marched across the College grounds.
The mission of the event was to “provide a space for people to break the silence about sexual assault and for survivors or those affected to come forward in a public space,” the College’s SAAP coordinator, Michelle de Sousa, said.
The night began with a rendition of Ani DiFranco’s “Gratitude” by the Rockapellas in front of the Hopkins Center. After almost an hour of marching across campus, participants ended the event in the center of the Green. The group stopped in front of the Collis Student Center, the Russell Sage Cluster, in the center of Webster Avenue and in front of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority.
Between chants of “2-4-6-8, stop the violence, stop the hate,” and “students unite, take back the night,” four female students and administrators spoke of their own and others’ experiences with sexual assault. Due to the sensitive nature of the event, all speakers wished to remain anonymous except for Alex Arnold ’10.
Arnold said that after she was gang-raped at knifepoint as a 12-year-old, she did everything she could to rationalize the situation.
“I needed to stop trying to make sense,” she said. “Senseless violence is, by its very definition, senseless.”
Rape and assault victims’ tendency to place blame on themselves is a common and very destructive psychological consequence of assault, Arnold said.
“Sexual assault is never your fault,” Arnold said in her speech. “The only ones at fault are the perpetrators.”
Unconsensual sex does happen at the College, Arnold said, adding that she does not believe there are more incidences at Dartmouth than at other universities. In her speech, Arnold defined the parameters of rape.
“Gray rape does not exist,” she said. “There is no borderline rape. If there is no consent, it is rape.”
There has been an increase in the number of reported sexual assaults at the College over the years, de Sousa said. However, this could have resulted from the recent increase in dialogue about the issue and not necessarily an increase in assaults, she added.
“We’re getting more reports of assaults on campus,” de Sousa said. “When I get a new report in my office, although I cringe, I also feel really good that survivors feel comfortable enough to come in and speak about it.”
The tearful evening ended with the echo of the word “survivor” — a term used to describe victims of sexual assault.
Although de Sousa said she considered the evening a success, Arnold lamented the lack of a more diverse presence among the marchers. Most of the participants are already involved in sexual abuse awareness programs on campus, she said, adding that she had hoped people from other organizations, such as sororities and fraternities, would come to the event.
“The people who come to the march are always the same people,” Arnold said. “We need more, different groups to come in order to understand the issue in more personal terms.”
This year, the march coincided with “Denim Day in LA & USA,” a campaign organized by Peace Over Violence to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault, according to de Sousa.
To commemorate “Denim Day” most of the marchers were wearing jeans.
The day was founded several years after the 1992 case of an 18-year-old Italian girl who was raped by her 45-year-old male driving instructor. The man was arrested and prosecuted after the attack and appealed the sentence to the Italian Supreme Court, which dropped all charges because, in the Court’s statement, “the victim wore very, very tight jeans [therefore] she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex”, according to the Denim Day website.
The infamous case sparked an international campaign in protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. The issue was also echoed in the statements made by several of the speakers and in their chant, “Yes means yes, no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go.”