Taking Back Their Voices, Taking Back the Night

Students held their thumbs up in unwavering signs of encouragement as others braved the stage to speak about their experience with sexual assault at Purchase’s Take Back the Night.
“It took ten minutes to scar me for life,” one woman said.
Another spoke, her tone quiet but strong, “I can talk. I have a voice.”
The room was set up with t-shirt strung across the room, with messages like “I survived” and “Caution this shirt is for sexual assault awareness”.  A table draped in a purple cloth featured poems, artwork, and informational pamphlets. Behind the stage was a background of a city against a black starry night.

Cathy Van Bomel, a Purchase counselor and the victims advocate on campus, started off the night.  Van Bomel works with Purchase’s Speak Out Program, which addresses stalking, sexual assault, rape, and harassment. They collaborate with My Sister’s Place and Victim Assistance Healing.
“If you are a survivor here tonight, what happened to you is part of your history, it is not you,” Van Bomel said.
Take Back the Night is a global rally that is meant to protest rape and sexual assault. The title combats the belief that a woman alone at nighttime should have to feel fearful. Beginning in 1975 through marches, Take Back the Night now usually features speakers, discussions, and a candlelight march.
There were two musical performances and two readings. Before starting a song, one girl said, “This is everything I wish I could say to the people who raped and almost killed me.”
According to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted sometime during their academic career. At Purchase College, UPD reported three rapes on campus last year and 13 forcible sexual offenses in 2009.
Cindy Markus Jones, UPD officer and Rape Aggression Defense instructor, gave a demonstration with several of her students on self-defense.
Markus said a student once told her, “Thank you for giving me back my voice.”
Survivor after survivor went up to the stage, some angry, some dispassionate, and many choking through sobs. They were handed long-stemmed flowers after speaking and stayed on stage, their presence reassurance for others to go forward.
“The reason I speak out is because people knew what was happening and didn’t help me,” a student said.
President Obama declared April to be National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. In a presidential proclamation on March 31, Obama said, “We must continue to reinforce that America will not tolerate sexual violence within our borders.”
In particular, the Obama administration has decided to focus on college campuses. In junction with the Office for Civil Rights, new regulatory obligations were presented to colleges in a 19-page document. These guidelines are also meant to apply to public elementary and secondary schools.
The document states that under Title IX, colleges cannot punish a victim of sexual assault who was using drugs or alcohol. They must now investigate in a timely manner, and also must investigate even if the assault occurred in off-campus housing.
Additionally, if rape or sexual assault seems “more than likely” to have occurred, there should be a punishment by the college.
Recently, an investigation has been launched at Yale University after 16 students reported that the school hadn’t taken adequate action following sexual assault and harassment incidents.
In a speech given by Vice President Joe Biden at the University of New Hampshire, he said, “Women, never ever ever accept the proposition that it is your fault if you are abused or raped.”
“I don’t think anyone should have their voice snuffed out,” one of the student survivors said, “They didn’t do anything wrong.”