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Patel: What it means to Take Back the Night

Meera Patel, Columnist

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Sexual assault and rape are topics that are hard to talk about. It takes a great deal of courage to talk about something so personal, to reveal something about yourself that you don’t usually share with people. There are feelings not usually associated with being assaulted or raped that only people who have gone through the same thing can understand. It affects so many different aspects of life. You feel like you don’t have control over what happens to you, as if it was your fault or that you did something to deserve what happened.

Take Back the Night is about supporting survivors and showing that there is a community of people who understand exactly what they are going through. It’s about showing people that rape and sexual assault don’t just happen in dark alleys to unsuspecting victims; they happen to people we know all the time. It’s about showing each and every person who has gone through something like this that there are people who will listen to him or her and support him or her without judgment. The purpose of Take Back the Night is to help everyone understand that you can have control over what happens to you in the future. You can take back control over your own life and decisions, and if you aren’t a survivor yourself, you can help those you know who are.

I personally think the speakout is the most important Take Back the Night event. It’s a forum for students to share their experiences, to have the courage to talk about what happened, to show control over the situation and to have people listen and support them. It’s hard to be reminded of something painful that you’ve gone through, but all your experiences change you and make you who you are as a person. The way that you process what happened to you or what you want to do about it is what helps you take control. The entire point of the speakout is to give survivors the opportunity to be brave and claim their experiences as their own and see the faces of people who completely understand looking back at them.

Calling attention to the issue of sexual assault and rape is a key part of Take Back the Night. Increasing awareness may seem pointless: You may wonder what passing out ribbons or organizing a walk around campus actually accomplishes. Having over 100 people on campus marching up Sheridan Road may seem like it doesn’t do much, but think about the people who carried banners in the march. Why did so many different organizations participate? Because a large variety of groups wanted to support the cause however they could. Spreading awareness is all about numbers and attendance. We can’t spread awareness without having a way for people to get involved one way or another.

Why do we need people to know that this happens? So that people know what they can do and what they can’t do. So that instead of watching movies about Prince Charming kissing a sleeping Snow White (there was no consent there), we have realistic expectations of our interactions with people. It’s a two-way street — no one should do something to anyone without their permission. That’s just not okay. And consent has to be verbal and very obviously affirmative for anything to happen between two people. It’s not an idea that only a few people can spread around. We need everyone to be aware of what could go wrong and what people feel if consent is not given.

What is an effective way to convey that it’s not okay to take advantage of someone? Emotion. Hearing the stories of people you know that move you to tears because you can’t believe that one event can make them feel that way, stories that give you that burning feeling of anger in your chest that anything like this could have happened to them, stories that makes you feel so strongly about it that it lights a fire in you to personally make sure that nothing like this ever hurts anyone again.

The events for Take Back the Night provide constructive, logical ways for people to learn about sexual assault and how they can take control over their experiences or help someone they know who has experienced it. Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, all of these serious mental health concerns often arise from sexual assault. There have to be constructive venues for survivors to talk about it where people can see that it’s an actual, tangible social problem facing society today.

There are many different ways we can combat violence. Take Back the Night is a national organization that is over a decade old and goes back to issues that were present long before then. Its mission is to support survivors of rape and sexual assault and to talk about these issues in a way that helps create safe communities and respectful relationships through awareness and support initiatives. Members are here to listen and to support survivors for as long as they need support. There is no time cap on the healing process, and there’s no set rule on how to go about healing. The goal of Take Back The Night is to spread awareness and encourage discussion in a constructive, non-judgmental, supportive manner, and that’s something we can all get behind.

Meera Patel is a McCormick junior and an incoming co-chair for Take Back the Night. She can be reached at meera@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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