By Bianca Mena and Monica Rodriguez
The student-run club Domestic Abuse Stops Here organized events to bring awareness to sexual assault during the second week of April. The week began with tabling and a flash mob and ended with a march, a Speak Out and a Night of Noise which celebrated inclusion, diversity and respect.
DASH Vice President Katie Fox said: “During sexual assault awareness month we mostly focus on our Take Back the Night events. This consists of tables during the week where we have the Clothesline Project and information about sexual assault and Take Back the Night.”
On April 9, DASH hosted their annual Take Back the Night. Fox said: “Take Back the Night is where we have a Speak Out and a march. The Speak Out is for those who have experienced sexual violence to be able to share their stories and heal. It is also for those who stand in solidarity with people who have experienced sexual violence.”
Due to the predicted severe thunderstorms that day, however, DASH canceled the march. Fox said the march typically takes place down Division Street to Trinity High School and back but the rain and tornado warnings prevented them from marching.
The afternoon of April 9, DASH made the call to move the Speak Out inside, sending an email to the Dominican community saying, “Rain or shine survivors and supporters are STRONG!”
As usual, DASH invited all members of the Dominican community to participate. Fox said: “Generally, we ask different Dominican staff members to speak and there are also open mic times during the Speak Out for anyone who wants to speak to do so. Usually we ask professors, ministers and other Dominican staff and faculty who are interested in issues of sexual assault and violence to speak.” Although the event is mostly attended by Dominican students and faculty, Concordia University Chicago students and professors also participate in the annual event.
Fox said DASH provides unique events like this to support victims, “We think that it is important to have these events and a month dedicated to sexual assault awareness because nobody should have to feel isolated or alone because they have experienced sexual violence.”
Fox acknowledged that, unfortunately, domestic violence and sexual assault are common. She said: “Due to the stigmatization surrounding these issues, along with victim blaming perpetuated by rape culture, people feel like they can’t tell anyone or that they are alone in their struggle. We hope that events like Take Back the Night will empower those who are struggling and validate that they are important, that they are not to blame for what happened to them and that they can share their story and be able to find support.” DASH President Violet Gallardo has dedicated her time to courses in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies, along with taking a 40 hour Illinois Domestic Violence Advocacy certification. Violet shared some statistics and concepts she hopes people take away from Sexual Assault Awareness Month: “One in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. Rape
Culture is a strong component that perpetuates the way we think about sexual assault and domestic violence through victim blaming institutionalized policies and media portrayal.”
Gallardo said though women are statistically more likely to be victims of a sexual assault, men can also be victims. She said that as a culture, we need to focus on educating people not to rape rather than worrying about whether a person’s behaviors or clothes suggest that they’re ‘asking for it.’
Gallardo shared some helpful advice for sexual assault advocates: “If someone opens up to you about being assaulted, thank them for being brave and sharing with you but do not make promises you cannot keep. Respect the survivor for sharing their experience and ask them how they want to make their next steps with resources such as The Wellness Center, Residence Life or other off-campus resources.”
Web sources said Take Back the Night engages over 30 countries to raise awareness against rape and other sexual violence. Since the late 1970s, women marched during rallies against rape and sexual assault. These rallies were created to protest the fear and violence women faced when walking the streets at night, which then lead to them being called “Take Back the Night” marches. Because of the new attention being called to violence against women, awareness of the issue began to be spread across both Europe and the US, leading to more rallies.
In the late 1980s, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault conducted an informal poll for state sexual coalitions in order to decide on a date for a national Sexual Assault Awareness Week. A week in the month of April was selected. During the late 1990s, organizations and advocates began planning events and creating activities to spread awareness on sexual violence, which lead to the idea of extending the Sexual Assault Awareness Week into an entire month instead. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was then first observed nationally in 2001 and later, in 2009, President Obama was the first US president to pronounce April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.