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Take Back the Night protests sexual assault

and | Thursday, April 21, 2016

Students will put their best foot forward as they march around campus Thursday and protest sexual assault as part of the annual Take Back the Night initiative, coordinated by the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) at Saint Mary’s and the Gender Relations Center (GRC) at Notre Dame. The event includes a kick off at 4:45 p.m. at Lake Marian at Saint Mary’s, a dinner and “speak out” at Legends at 5:30 p.m., a march around Notre Dame campus at 7:45 p.m. and a candlelight prayer vigil at the Grotto at 8:15 p.m.

Connie Adams, director of BAVO, said Take Back the Night unites participants by informing them of the harsh realities of violence on college campuses.

“When we recognize and stand with some of the most vulnerable within our community, we are the strongest,” Adams said. “If we want to see a reduction in violence, we are all responsible for becoming educated and committing to prevention.”

Adams said the initiative allows sexual assault survivors to talk about their experiences in a supportive environment.

“Sexual assault is a crime of silence,” Adams said. “Survivors deserve a space where they can share their stories, use their voices and be heard.”

The event raises awareness about an underrepresented issue, which reflects the mission of the College, Adams said.

“Saint Mary’s has a long history of meeting the needs of the times as founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross,” Adams said. “By speaking out and addressing this prominent issue and need of our time, students become one with a long tradition of advocacy and compassion. The first step in change is always awareness.”

Regina Gesicki, assistant director for educational initiatives at the GRC, said in an email she hopes the event evokes emotion in students and sparks change.

“I hope attendees of Take Back the Night will leave the event feeling supported by their community, empowered to be part of ongoing initiatives to promote culture change and hopeful that with everyone working together, we can build a future at Notre Dame where the silence around sexual violence is eliminated,” she said.

Gesicki said Take Back the Night serves as a form of healing for those affected by sexual assault.

“We know that reclaiming one’s agency is so important in healing, individually and as a community, and this can serve as a powerful way to tell one’s story for the first time, or to share wherever one is on the journey, all in a safe and supportive environment,” Gesicki said. “The release of the [Campus Climate Survey] statistics was one step further in breaking the silence around sexual violence, and Take Back the Night is another way to continue the dialogue toward change, and [offer] support [for] our community members who have been impacted.”

Sophomore Abigail Spica, chair of BAVO’s events and campaigns committee, said one in five college women will be affected by sexual assault.

“That’s a staggering amount,” Spica said. “If you look at the statistics between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, our campus statistics reflect the national average, unfortunately. Twenty percent of our community is affected by this, at least, and those are just reported numbers.”

Spica said Take Back the Night empowers students to work to eradicate this cycle of violence.

“I hope that people not only have more of an awareness of violence that occurs within our community, but also that they’re inspired to end this violence, to actually make our campus a safer space,” Spica said. “It’s a movement that represents support for a common humanity.”

Sophomore Marilla Opra, marketing representative on BAVO’s events and campaigns committee, said protesting sexual assault is a necessary step in preventing it.

“It’s an issue that’s getting out of control,” Opra said.“By uniting survivors and supporters, we can help.”

Opra said Take Back the Night makes a noticeable statement because it involves so many people.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Opra said. “When people see a large group surrounding supporters of a cause, then they feel more empowered to reach out for help and share their voices and help others. It’s a positive chain effect.”

Opra said student involvement plays an integral role in the success of Take Back the Night.

“It’s one thing to have a teacher or authority figure preaching, but to hear it from fellow students resonates more,” Opra said. “It makes it more relatable and easier to understand. Seeing it firsthand really puts things into perspective and makes it hit home and shows how much of an epidemic it really is.”

Spica said she hopes the event changes the minds and hearts of participants by demonstrating the necessity to eliminate sexual assault.

“It allows people to come together as a group and learn,” Spica said. “Even if we can make one person recognize that this is a problem and it needs to stop, that’s our goal.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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