Rally fosters atmosphere of solidarity

Thursday night, for the 16th consecutive year, more than 1,000 Northwestern students, faculty and staff will gather at The Rock for Take Back the Night, a rally and march against sexual assault, followed by an open mic session. NU students will share their personal experiences with rape and assault. We will march through campus to support these survivors and to foster an environment that refuses to accept sexual assault and violence.

Few would hesitate to say they oppose sexual violence. We”ve all taken Responsibilities 102, seen the after-school specials and read countless Daily articles about campus safety. Most students know sexual assault exists in our community, yet few realize how directly it affects them. Statistics can seem like just another set of numbers, but they represent your classmates, friends and lovers.

When most of us think about rape, we picture a strange man leaping out of a dark alley to attack an unsuspecting female. We take self-defense classes and buy pepper spray to ward off attackers. Though these things may help protect us from being mugged or robbed, rape rarely occurs this way.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 84 percent of rapes involve an acquaintance. Countless NU women have been attacked by people they trusted deeply, even their boyfriends.

Our point is not to vilify all men, or make female students paranoid about spending time alone with their male friends. Rather, Take Back the Night gives a voice to rape survivors who live down the hall from you or sit next to you in class.

The few student speakers you hear Thursday represent hundreds more women at NU who suffer silently.

We organize this event to break the silence.

Thursday night, you will see that rape affects everyone, regardless of appearance, age, or attitude. By the end of college, one in four women will have been sexually assaulted, according to a report by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Think about that number — when was the last time you were in a room with four women? Men are certainly not immune either: One in five will be assaulted or raped in his lifetime, the report said. When you realize this one person could be your girlfriend or your roommate, you might feel helpless. After all, what can you do in the face of such a pervasive social problem?

You can show up. Social change occurs only through awareness and action. By attending Take Back the Night, you acknowledge that sexual assault happens here.

You recognize that the shame associated with these crimes lies not with its victims but its perpetrators. You show those classmates, friends and lovers that you stand with them. You begin the process of education and prevention that leads to new social standards, policies and laws.

You have the opportunity to take action. Your support comforts those who are ready to tell their story and empowers those who have yet to voice their experiences.

We invite you all to Take Back the Night Thursday at 8 p.m. at The Rock.

Laura Millendorf, Christie Houlihan and Vickie Cook are members of the Women”s Coalition executive board. Millendorf, a Weinberg senior, can be reached at l-millendorf @northwestern.edu. Houlihan, a Weinberg sophomore can be reached at choulihan @northwestern.edu. Cook, a Weinberg junior, can be reached at [email protected]