Students share stories of sexual assault at ‘Take Back the Night’

Attendees walked around Beckman Hall in solidarity with those who have experienced sexual assault. Photo by Bonnie Cash

Solidarity and strength conquered sexual assault for an emotional evening in the Fish Interfaith Center, where more than 150 students joined together on March 14 for “Take Back the Night.”

“Take Back the Night,” hosted by Chapman’s Creating A Rape-free Environment for Students (C.A.R.E.S.), is devoted to acknowledging the courage of sexual assault survivors and giving them an opportunity to share their stories, said Dani Smith, the university’s rape crisis counselor and coordinator for C.A.R.E.S.

“My experience is that people do not realize the toll that this type of a trauma can take on a person,” Smith said. “It’s something that can happen very quickly, but the consequences can be long-lasting. Not only are survivors given the opportunity to speak their truth in a supportive environment, but if they choose not to, they have an opportunity to hear other people’s stories. It helps them understand that they are not alone.”

The event began with a message from Smith about the importance of acknowledging the courage of survivors and emphasizing the importance of respect and solidarity toward sexual assault survivors.

Rape Crisis Counselor Dani Smith welcomed the Chapman community to “Take Back the Night,” held in the Fish Interfaith Center on March 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash

After Smith’s introduction, a cappella group Simply Vocale performed a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Safe and Sound.”

Chapman C.A.R.E.S. members shared anonymous stories about students affected by sexual assault, along with information and statistics about sexual assault and rape.

Taylor Aronow, a senior integrated educational studies major, told The Panther that C.A.R.E.S. puts on the event every year as a way for the sexual assault survivors to take their power back by sharing their stories.

“We hope that students realize that sexual violence is something that affects people around them and also inspires them to stand up to their friends or peers who may be contributing to the problem,” Aronow said.

Smith said that more men attended the “Take Back the Night” event than in previous years.

“I was very impressed by the fact that we had so many men there because, unfortunately, most folks who hurt other people in a sexually violent way tend to be male. That’s just the stats,” Smith said. “To have them hear the true stories and the impact upon folks years later is really really important.”

Members of C.A.R.E.S. reached out to fraternities Pi Kappa Alpha, Phi Delta Theta and Phi Kappa Tau to help with “Take Back the Night,” Smith said. In previous years, the fraternities involved haven’t stayed  throughout the entire event. This year, Smith said, many of them did.

Women from all eight sororities and Chapman Panhellenic assisted with the event.

The event also featured student performances of poetry, video and song. Niki Black, a senior women and gender studies major, sat down in front of the grand piano at the front of the room and sang a song that she wrote.

“My song that I sang was called ‘Our Bodies, Our Choice’ that I wrote expressing the sentiment of personal autonomy,” Black said. “I think the phrase well-encapsulates an anti-rape sentiment and centralizes that our bodies are truly our bodies. It is the perception of entitlement to someone’s body that pervades this epidemic of rape and rape culture.”

Students held candles and walked around campus at the end of the night. Photo by Bonnie Cash

The final portion of the event was dedicated to an open mic for students to share their thoughts and stories aloud. Students were handed a lit candle while exiting the Interfaith Center, and they walked along Glassell Street in silence and solidarity for sexual violence survivors. The evening came to a close with a reception in the Beckman Hall lobby.

Carly Waterbury, a senior integrated educational studies major, said that, for her, the event represented solidarity.

“The walk was my favorite part,” Waterbury said. “(We were) standing together, drawing attention and making it so that we were visible.”

Smith, who has been at the university for 27 years, said that the fact that only a few people shared at the open mic is a good sign, because it may mean that sexual assault is not happening as frequently.

“It’s a successful night if people feel held, believed, supported, empowered,” Smith said. “I don’t know what takes place with the people who sit there and don’t come up (to the open mic), but I think transformative things happen.”

“Take Back the Night” follows close behind The Clothesline Project, which took place March 8. The Clothesline Project is an event also put on by C.A.R.E.S. to honor those who have been affected by sexual violence.

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