We’ve launched our Campaign to End Sexual Violence, and we want you to have all the resources you can get. That’s why we’re bringing you a series of posts devoted to the campaign toolkit, and breaking down the points inside. This roundtable explores the value of hosting a Take Back the Night or Slutwalk on your campus to break the silence and smash rape culture. Share your own stories in the comments!
Audrey Smith, Feminist Union President at University of Iowa
Last April, hundreds of Iowa City students and community members gathered outside of the Old Capitol in order to speak out against sexual violence. As part of the annual Take Back the Night rally and vigil, which was sponsored by the Women’s Resource and Action Center and the University of Iowa Feminist Union, participants of all ages, genders, and backgrounds chanted and carried signs in a demonstration through downtown Iowa City. After the demonstration, the group reconvened on the Pentacrest, where survivors of sexual assault told their stories into a lone microphone set up in the middle of the Old Capitol lawn. The testimonies were as varied as they were powerful; some told their own personal stories through poetry or music, while others told stories of friends and family members who had experienced sexual violence, in an expression of solidarity with other survivors. While the testimonies took a variety of different forms, each contained a common thread: a sense of injustice at the silence surrounding the issue of sexual assault, in the Iowa City community and beyond.
Among the stories shared that evening was my own. During the demonstration, I carried a sign that shared, in bold black and red letters, what a physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) said to me after I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2012. A few months after my assault, I was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder and spent four days in the psychiatric wing of UIHC. During this experience, I faced victim-blaming from the very people I had turned to for help; at the end of my stay, my doctor informed me that I was at fault for being attacked–if I hadn’t been drinking, she told me, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
If the stories shared at Take Back the Night are any indication, then my experience far from unique. Even in a seemingly progressive town such as Iowa City–home to such wonderful resources as the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, the Women’s Resource and Action Center, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program–attitudes and rhetorics that blame victims for their assault are still incredibly pervasive. As a survivor, and as the president of a feminist campus organization, I find it imperative that we drastically alter the current conversation surrounding rape and sexual assault in our communities – by creating a safe space for survivors to share their stories, by providing survivors of all genders with appropriate care and support, and by educating the community about safe, consensual sex.
The University of Iowa’s Feminist Union is dedicated to responding to each part of this goal, from planning events such as the Feminist Voices Showcase, in which feminist artists, writers, and musicians to share their work and the stories that inspired them; to supporting programs like WRAC, RVAP, and DVIP through fundraising and awareness campaigns; and to spreading awareness through events such as our upcoming Sex-Education panel, an LGBT-inclusive and sex-positive take on safe, consensual sex. While events such as these cannot completely eradicate sexual violence, these events work to broaden and change the dialogue surrounding this topic by providing resources for survivors and allies. For this reason, the University of Iowa Feminist Union plans to continue working alongside other Iowa City organizations such as WRAC, DVIP, and RVAP to facilitate productive discussions about the prevalence of sexual assault in our community, in the hopes that we can chip away at the silence that surrounds this issue. The more voices, the less silence. And once we speak up, it’s impossible not to be heard.
Marissa Lueck, member of CARE at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
We held our 23rd Take Back the Night on October 9; the march is a night to come together to raise awareness of sexual violence and show support as a community with those who are survivors and/or allies. There was a small fair where local organizations that advocate against sexual violence or promote change for a better world spread the word by sharing information, a short presentation featuring a moving speech from a survivor of sex trafficking, and a rally from the UW Oshkosh campus to downtown Oshkosh.
Here’s what I learned: Use your voice (it’s more powerful than you think) and get talking about issues related to sexual violence. Educate yourself and others about these issues. Keeping quiet will only continue it.
Sexual violence affects everyone. It could happen to you or someone you know. Let’s speak up and end this.
Carolyn Crenshaw, “LIPS” President at Applachian State University
When the organization “LIPS: Expressions of Female Sexuality” was started at Appalachian State in the spring of 2012, it opened up a space for female-identified persons to define their own sexuality outside of the corporate women’s magazines and mass media. This is achieved through our weekly meetings and our semesterly publication (or zine). It’s a unique and important space on our campus. The founding officers decided we should also reach out to our community. In April 2012 we had our very first Slut Walk in order to rid our campus of rape culture and sexual violence. We have had two since our organization’s inception, both with success.
The need for a Slut Walk is one that is much too common on college campuses: sexual violence and victim-blaming. In April 2011, a female student (“Survivor One”) was raped, but did not immediately report the event due to the prestige associated with student athletics on campus. Four out of the five men played on the football team. Later that year, two of the same players raped another female student (“Survivor Two”). The two survivors decided to support each other and press charges. The ensuing trial, during which the survivors faced considerable opposition, eventually found that there had been a breach in the Appalachian State’s Code of Student Conduct. Three of the students faced lesser charges that allowed them back on campus, of which the survivors were not notified. The other two players were found guilty and originally suspended for eight semesters, but one was immediately reinstated for the following year’s season. The petition created in the students’ defense reads:
Reinstating a student found guilty of rape to the football team, failing to notify the victims of their perpetrators’ presence on campus, and failing to notify the student body of these occurrences only perpetrates rape culture and creates an environment that is unsafe for students.
LIPS organized a Slut Walk to speak directly to our community about rape culture. We went entirely through the university, encouraged students, faculty, and community members to join us, and handed out information flyers to passers by. Several clubs and organizations on campus also joined in support. We are currently planning our third Slut Walk, where survivors and allies will stand together against sexual assault and violence. College campuses should be free of all violence and standing together helps those who are made to feel alone.
Lorraine Costa, Slutwalk Miami Organizer and NOW President at Florida International University
When I heard about the initiative to have a Slut Walk in our campus I knew it was something I wanted to be part of because I knew it was a very important issue, especially being in a Miami University. Miami is known for the sexy over-exposed bodies and awful justifications for sexual assault, it is extremely important to teach young adults growing up in this “party city” about consent, slut shaming and victim blaming.
The outcome of the last years Slut Walk was surprising for everyone, we were approached by sororities, fraternities and other organizations at FIU that wanted to collaborate with our Slut Walk 2014. I’m very proud to have the opportunity as the president of the National Organization for Women at FIU to be organizing the next Slut Walk, it is a fight that should bring our campus together to educate and make a change.
MaryKathyrine Tran, Co-Director of Women’s Advocacy Council at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
While sexual violence is not unheard of on my campus, awareness has been heightened after a recent increase in attempted sexual assaults on campus (or at least an increase in reported sexual assaults). Toward the beginning of the semester, students of Oshkosh were informed about three attempted sexual assaults in the span of two weeks. Naturally, panic spread through the entire campus due to its abnormality and new stations throughout the state became interested in Oshkosh’s dangerous atmosphere and how the administration would be handling the issue. On Wednesday, September 18th, representatives from The Counseling Center, CARE (Campus Awareness for Relationship Education), The Women’s Center, Dean of Students, Campus Police, and RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) offered a panel focused exclusively on how UWO promotes a safe environment, combats rape culture and promotes an inclusive environment on campus, and provides support for the campus community. The event definitely proved to be an incredibly useful tool for students on what the campus community is doing to keep students safe, as well as offering resources if something does occur.
Because of these recent events, the Fox Valley Take Back the Night on Wednesday, October 9th, was especially powerful. TBTN is one of the most imperative events that happens on the UWO campus during the academic year. It not only provides excellent resources on how we, as a student community, can help both victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but also always has positive energy and creates a powerful sense of solidarity as we all stand up and speak out for ourselves or for others who have suffered or are suffering from the affects of sexual violence and domestic abuse. TBTN is a time for the campus and surrounding community to show that we will not stand and tolerate sexual violence and domestic abuse, and are working toward major social change that won’t stop until rape culture and violence is eradicated.
A particularly interesting thing that happened during TBTN was the Women’s Advocacy Council’s (WAC) response to Titan Alerts. Titan Alerts are emails or texts sent to students, faculty, and staff at the university that informs recipients about inclement weather, cancellations, or problems on campus; we all had received emails regarding the attempted sexual assaults that happened in September and noticed the emails tended to have victim-blaming rhetoric (such as suggesting tips in order to avoid being attacked). We all know the power of language and its ability to empower or shame, and we felt compelled to acknowledge the flaws in the Titan Alerts messaging. WAC members met the day before TBTN and made signs with messages such as: “Hey Titan Alerts, it’d be really cool if you stopped encouraging victim blame.” and “Hey Titan Alerts, instead of telling me where to go, tell people not to rape.” The signs ended up being viewed positively by students and staff at the rally who were thankful someone had publicized and created public discourse about this problem. But even better, UWO’s Associate Director of News and Public information noticed our table and signs, took pictures of them, and assured us he would be speaking to both Dean of Students as well as the Chancellor about changing the format and wording in Titan Alerts in order to empower students instead of shaming or instilling fear in the community. This is one small but important step to improving UWO’s campus climate.
Overall, this semester has been an effective one in terms of fighting sexual violence. TBTN and our other, related events offered support, education, and methods to become active in the fight against this injustice. There is obviously still work that needs to be done, but UWO is working each day toward becoming a better, and more informed, atmosphere. As long as we continue to spark dialogue about sexual violence and refuse to allow it silence us, there is no way we cannot create a better world.