6 Things That Change in a Safe Space

…and how to make everywhere more of a safe space.

What happens in a “safe space”? If you attended Take Back the Night on Wednesday, April 2, you saw the incredible results. You saw a room full of people enter into a tacit agreement that they were there to listen, there to help one another, and there to understand.

For those who don’t know, Take Back the Night is an annual event providing a platform for anyone to speak about experiences with sexual violence. It is a safe space. And when you create an environment like that, some incredible things happen.

1. People speak. And you don’t just hear their stories—you learn their secret anxieties, the fears that trip them up. Even on a small campus, it’s easy to assign someone a flat label. When you hear them speak, they go 3D.

2. Some people don’t speak. And that’s ok too. After a brief introduction, the floor opens to anyone and everyone.  The silence that follows is one of the most poignant aspects of the entire event. It is taut, trembling, laden with emotion. “You can hear people summoning the courage to speak,” says Davidson Health Advisor Georgia Ringle. “It’s pretty amazing.”

3. Even more people speak. Once someone breaks the silence, so many people are willing to speak. Ringle even says, “I have a feeling that if we sat there all night, everyone in the room would get up and speak.” It’s hard not to see how that plays out on a larger scale—how many people would speak out if just one person were brave enough to go first and set the example?

4. Men speak, too. Sexual violence is not just a women’s issue. It is a human issue. Males participated in Take Back the Night once again at Davidson, both as survivors and “secondary survivors,” people who were family or friends of survivors.

5. People learn. One of the major lessons of Take Back the Night is how deep and pervasive the effects of sexual violence can be. Alexis Kaminski, one of the organizing forces behind the event, emphasizes, “The effects of sexual assault are much longer than the night it happens. It stays with one for a lifetime as well as with their friends and family.”

6. A conversation starts. When we dare to break the silence, we take away from the power of sexual violence. So much of its power comes from having you all to itself.

I want to see the rest of Davidson become more like the 900 room that Wednesday night. How do we make that happen? A few tips from Georgia Ringle:

What do you do if someone tells you they have experienced sexual violence? “Believe them. They are not telling you this lightly. They’ve picked you to trust, and you need to respect that.”

What if you have experienced sexual violence? “Tell someone. Everything else goes away. A bad test grade goes away. A break-up goes away. This festers. I don’t care if you think you’re responsible for it. That’s not the issue anymore. You’re living with this now.”

So go to the counseling center; go to a friend; go to Georgia Ringle (bottom floor of the health center). Tell someone. Break the silence. Help us take back the night.