UC Davis Students Take Back the Night

On April 21, the UC Davis Center for Advocacy, Research, and Education hosted Take Back the Night, an annual rally to raise awareness of and provide support for survivors of sexual violence. About a hundred people gathered into the Multipurpose Room of the Student Community Center on the Thursday night.

The speakers began presenting at 7:30, but doors were opened to the public at 7; prior to the event, the Women’s Resources and Research Center had hosted a march at 6 pm. Early arrivals were greeted with a playlist of empowering songs meant to provide an uplifting, encouraging space for survivors, as well as a slideshow of Aggies posing with whiteboards displaying their answers to the question “I take back the night because…” Tables for CARE, the WRRC, the LGBTQIA Center, HEP, the Cross Cultural Center, the Gender and Sexuality Commission, the Office for Advocacy and Student Representation, the CCRT Sub Committee, the Sexual Assault Awareness and Advocacy Committee, and AB540, as well as community organizations like My Sister’s House and Empower Yolo, were set up around the room to provide resources. There were also two large boards for attendees to post star-shaped post-it notes completing these sentences: “I take back the night because…” and “As a survivor, here is what I want you to know about my experience…” Out on the balcony, a table was set up with markers, acrylic paint, and a large banner. This was a community art project for visitors to write and paint messages of support for survivors and for ending rape culture.

At 7:30, Allyanna Pittman, Outreach Assistant at CARE and emcee for the evening, kicked off TBTN 2016. She began by acknowledging that while the name of the event originated because back in the 1970s, college women were protesting an environment that made female students feel unsafe walking home alone at night, the majority of rapes are actually committed by someone known to the victim, not by a stranger in a dark alley. Furthermore, sexual assault victimizes people of all genders, not just women, with people from marginalized communities disproportionately affected as sexual violence also functions as a form of oppression.

The evening officially began with a keynote address by Chaz Walker-Ashley, Assistant Director of the LGBTQIA Center. There were also spoken-word performances by members of the SickSpits Spoken Word Collective and V*: Our Stories, as well as by survivors from the UC Davis community. Their stories revealed a diverse range of experiences: abuse by partners, by trusted friends, by families. The monologues also touched on other topics as well, from being a male survivor and told to “toughen up,” to being silenced as a Southeast Asian woman. Performers spoke out about ableism, about being black and queer, about systemic forms of oppression. There were common threads running through all of the pieces, though. Every single survivor described being blamed and made to feel guilty for their abuser’s actions.

At the end of the event, Allyanna handed the microphone to Sarah Meredith, the director of CARE. After briefly describing how she had come to work as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, Sarah closed the night by inviting anyone in the audience who wished to identify themselves as a survivor—repeatedly assuring us that we did not have to do so if we were not comfortable—to raise their hands. Afterwards, she asked for anyone with a loved one who had been victimized by sexual violence to raise their hands. Finally, she asked anyone who identified as an ally to help end sexual and gender-based violence to raise their hands.  Now, before the speakers came on stage, Allyanna had reminded us that we were welcome to step out at any time if the extremely sensitive subject matter as triggering. There was even a professional counselor on hand in case any survivors in the audience found themselves overwhelmed. Having volunteered with CARE to set up the event, I was prepared for an emotional night.

But when I saw some of the people raising their hands to identify themselves as survivors, well, that got me. These were people I had worked with, had classes with, even called my friends. And I hadn’t even known.

Take Back the Night 2016 was a night full of emotions for me, but I left feeling that it was strangely cathartic. Later, I realized that maybe it was easy for me to feel that way. I have been incredibly privileged: as of this writing, I not have been personally affected by sexual violence. But what about the many, many survivors in the audience? I don’t know if they felt the same way. All I can say is, I hope they did. I hope they left feeling empowered and supported. I hope they left feeling that what happened to them was not their fault. I hope they took some comfort, even if just a little, from looking around a conference room of a hundred people, all raising their hands to pledge their support to help end sexual violence.