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Community unites voices to break the silence

Nicole Toczauer | Friday, April 20, 2012

Members of the Notre Dame community joined with Saint Mary’s in Take Back the Night on Thursday evening to break the silence surrounding the violence of rape and sexual assault.

Amanda Downey, assistant director for Educational Initiatives at the Gender Relations Center (GRC), said the goal of Take Back the Night (TBTN) is for survivors and allies to publicly stand against all forms of sexual violence.

“Men and women break the silence surrounding this violence with voices of prayer, chanting and the sharing of stories,” she said.

TBTN began in Philadelphia in 1975 as a way for communities to unite against abuse, sexual assault and rape. Since then, the event has spread to thousands of universities, crisis centers and cities around the country, Downey said.

Downey said Notre Dame began supporting the cause with its own TBTN several years ago. This year, the GRC worked with Men Against Violence, the Core Council and the Belles Against Violence Office at Saint Mary’s.

“We have worked collaboratively since the early stages of planning,” she said. “Students and staff from both campuses worked together to plan and implement the program.”

The cooperation across campuses mirrored the night’s effort of promoting solidarity among women and community members, she said.

“We are all united in voices of hope and prayer that this violence will not be tolerated, and that those who have been hurt will someday find peace and healing,” Downey said. “It is important to create a survivor-friendly environment.”

The night began with a group walk from Saint Mary’s Lake Marian to the Grotto for a candlelight vigil. A campus march followed the vigil and led to Holy Cross Hill, where members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities shared their experiences in a “Speak Out” session.

“I [was] really looking forward to the prayer service at the Grotto. It was a moving and beautiful event,” Downey said. “During the ‘Speak Out’ portion of the event, survivors felt empowered by sharing their own journey of healing, or by listening to the stories of others.”

Downey said survivors of sexual assault witnessed the outpouring of support from the community at TBTN. She said friends, family and community members were also impacted by the events and shared stories.

“The hope for this type of program is always to raise awareness and to create a safe space for survivors and friends,” Downey said. “There are a lot of people on campus who care and want to help.”

For more information about on-campus support, visit the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention’s website at www.csap.nd.edu.